SEOUL – South Korean police have detained a passenger and launched an investigation after he opened the door of an Asiana Airlines plane shortly before the aircraft landed, the country’s Transportation Ministry said on Friday.
The ministry said police had taken the passenger into custody and were investigating a possible violation of aviation safety laws.
The Airbus A321-200 was on a domestic flight with nearly 200 people on board.
The incident occurred when the plane was preparing to land at Daegu International Airport, about 240km south-east of the capital Seoul.
When the plane was around 200m above the ground, a passenger sitting near the emergency exit “opened the door manually by touching the lever”, the South Korean carrier’s representative told AFP.
Passengers were exposed to a fierce wind blowing into the plane through the emergency door, which was completely ajar, for about 10 minutes until the plane landed.
Some young passengers were reported to have panicked, crying and screaming as the air pressure deafened them.
The plane landed safely at around 12.40pm local time after departing from the island of Jeju an hour earlier, the airport’s flight schedule showed.
At least nine people suffered minor injuries and were sent to a hospital in Daegu.
The nine people had hyperventilated, the Daegu Fire Department said.
Those injured included eight student athletes.
Daegu Airport authorities said no deaths or severe injuries occurred as a result of the incident.
The man reportedly claimed that he accidentally opened the door by touching the wrong device.
At the time of the incident, everyone on board was seated with seat belts fastened because the plane was about to land, an Asiana spokesman said.
Asiana said the door should not have opened due to the air pressure difference, but the air pressure decreased just before landing, allowing it to open.
“There are no crew members sitting next to all emergency exits. The crew tried to stop his strange behaviour, but it was too late,” the company said in a statement.
The firm added the door is designed for passengers to be able to open it under emergency circumstances, and that there is no separate locking device.
The company has not said whether it would seek civil and criminal responsibility. It has also yet to determine the extent of the damage and associated costs to the plane.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it plans to obtain the details of the incident from the airline.
The ministry also mentioned that the man who opened the door would be held legally responsible, in accordance with relevant laws such as the Aviation Safety Act and the Aviation Security Act, following a police investigation.
Under the Aviation Security Act, manipulation of doors, exits or devices that hinder aircraft security or operation are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
After the incident, pictures showed an open emergency door near the plane’s left wing and a deployed escape slide ripped away from it.
“It is particularly dangerous during landing and takeoff, so someone from the flight staff should have stopped that passenger,” said Mr Sohn Myong-hwan, a professor at South Korea’s Sehan University’s aviation maintenance department.
“To me, it seems difficult for the airline can get away from any potential responsibility here,” he said. REUTERS, AFP, THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK