Cathay Pacific reports sighting of North Korea's missile test last week

North Korea's newly developed inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 was launched from a site to the north of Pyongyang at around 3am (North Korean time) on Nov 29, 2017.
North Korea's newly developed inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 was launched from a site to the north of Pyongyang at around 3am (North Korean time) on Nov 29, 2017.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG - The crew of a Cathay Pacific flight from San Francisco has reported a sighting of what was suspected to be the re-entry of the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tested by North Korea last week.

Flight trackers show that passenger flight CX893 was over Japan when the new Hwasong-15 was launched from a site to the north of Pyongyang at around 3am (North Korean time) on Nov 29.

At least one other Cathay Pacific plane - cargo-carrying CX096 - was in the region at the time, reported South China Morning Post.

The North Korean missile flew for 53 minutes before falling into the body of water separating the Korean peninsula and Japan.

In a message on a staff online communication platform, Cathay Pacific's general manager of operations Mark Hoey said: "Today (date unspecified) the crew of CX893 reported, 'Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location.'"

Cathay Pacific is the second airline to report sightings of North Korea's latest missile test.

The captains of two Korean Air passenger planes reported last week that they saw flashes believed to be from the Nov 29 missile launch.

 
 

A Korean Air official said that the planes were headed for South Korea's Incheon Airport after departing from San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The official added that both Korean Air planes landed safely at Incheon and the missile did not endanger their safety because the trajectory was far enough from the planes' flight paths.

Cathay Pacific, too, says the CX096 flight was far from the event location.

A spokesman for the airline says the airline has no plans to alter its routes in the region.

The company would remain alert and review the situation as it evolved, the spokesman told South China Morning Post.

While expert say the risk of an incident remains very low, the frequency of North Korea's missile launches has heightened fears among some airlines.

In early August, Air France expanded their no-fly zone around North Korea after it transpired one of its planes flew close to a North Korean missile path.

The United Nation's aviation agency International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in October condemned North Korea for continued launching of ballistic missiles, which threatened the safety of international civil aviation.

As an ICAO member state, North Korea is expected to notify adjacent countries of any activity or incident arising from its territory which may pose risks to nearby civil aviation routes or operations.

But North Korea is not known to have given the ICAO any advance notice of its missile tests.

"These missile tests do pose a risk for commercial planes," Mr Ankit Panda, associate editor of The Diplomat, told BBC News.

 
 

North Korea, like other countries, has access to international civil aviation data so scientists can study the airspace they are about to send their missile into and determine which area is the least populated.

"Pyongyang certainly wants to minimise the risk of any incident," Mr Panda explains. "Contrary to what people might think, they don't want an incident. They would look to a trajectory that minimises risk."

Events like the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine mean that airlines are very aware of the risks of one their planes getting misidentified as military in or near contested airspace.

That means that if tensions around the Korean peninsula continue to heat up, airlines might decide to choose routes that avoid the region, reported BBC News.