Cathay Pacific Airline Crew Observed North Korean Missile Test

Korea's official news agency shows the launch of the Hwasong-15 missile Credit KCNA  AFP

Crew on board a Cathay Pacific plane flying over Japan reported a suspected sighting of last week's North Korean missile test, the airline said.

A Cathay spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post that its crew on CX893 made a report on November 29 about the sighting, believing it was a missile tested by North Korea at 2:18 a.m. Hong Kong time.

According to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Mark Hoey, the airline's general operations manager, also told staff: "Today the crew of CX893 reported, 'Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location'".

Given the arbitrary nature of the tests, it is possible that a North Korean missile could hit an airplane traveling through airspace near the launch site.

"Though the flight was far from the event location, the crew advised Japan [air traffic control] according to procedures". "We remain alert and review the situation as it evolves".

North Korea's test last Wednesday of the Hwasong-15 ICBM saw the missile reach an altitude of 4,475km (2,780 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan after 53 minutes in the air, Pyongyang said.

The Cathay Pacific flight took off from San Francisco and was bound for Hong Kong.


North Korea has developed ballistic missiles powerful enough to reach their intended targets, including those as far away as the continental USA, and nuclear warheads for those weapons, but the North has struggled with re-entry vehicle technology, which ensures that the warhead survives the flight.

But analysts note the missile would require a re-entry vehicle that could withstand the heat and pressure of descent to deliver an intact nuclear warhead to the ground.

Regardless of whether or not the test failed on re-entry, the newest missile represents a technological breakthrough for the regime.

North Korea has long objected against joint drills by the two allies, with Pyongyang's ambassador to the United Nations ruling out negotiations with Washington in November, citing America's "hostile policy" against his country and continuing joint exercises.

As tensions surged, US Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican and foreign policy hawk, warned that the US was moving closer to "preemptive war" with the North. North Korea likely chooses splashdown points for each stage that avoid airline routes, said Vipin Narang, an expert on nuclear strategy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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