Crew members on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to the United States witnessed last week's North Korean missile test from a distance, the South China Morning Post reports.
The airline confirmed that crew aboard flight CX893 from Hong Kong to San Francisco saw the early morning intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test from afar on November 29 as the passenger plane flew over Japan.
The crew members notified Japanese air traffic control officials of their suspected sighting of the missile's re-entry. The ICBM was launched at 2.18am China Standard Time (CST).
A Cathay Pacific spokesperson told SCMP that the flight operations remained normal and were unaffected. The airline will not change routes or other operating procedures, but said that it would be on alert and review the situation.
An image from last week's DPRK missile test
In an internal message to Cathay Pacific employees, general manager Mark Hoey informed staff of the incident, writing:
Today [date unspecified] the crew of CX893 reported, "Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location." We advised ATC [air traffic control] and ops [operations] normal. Looking at the actual plots, CX096 [a Cathay Pacific cargo flight] might have been the closest, at a few hundred miles laterally.
The Alaska-bound cargo flight (CX096) was also over Japan when the missile made its re-entry.
Pilots of two Korean Air flights also reportedly witnessed flashes of light believed to be from the missile launch, according to an unnamed airline official. The planes were on their way to Incheon International Airport near the South Korean capital of Seoul, en route from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The captain of the first plane reported seeing a flash to Japanese ground control about an hour after North Korea fired what it said was a new intercontinental ballistic missile.
Japan’s defence minister said the missile landed in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) about that time.
The airline official said the captain of the second plane made a similar report four minutes later as his plane passed along the same route.
He said both planes safely landed at Incheon and the missile didn’t endanger their safety because the trajectory was far enough from the planes’ flight paths.
Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a lawmaker and former pilot, told the SCMP that airlines have the option of re-routing affected flights between Hong Kong, North America, Japan and South Korea in such situations. As CNN notes, the DPRK's missile tests could pose a serious threat to commercial flights.
The new ICBM, named the Hwasong-15, crash landed in the Sea of Japan early last Wednesday morning after flying 950 kilometers and reaching an altitude of nearly 4,500 kilometers (higher than any of its predecessors). The missile, said to be the most powerful one tested to date, can carry a “super large heavy warhead" and may put the entire continental US in range.