The crews of at least three commercial airlines reported sighting what is believed to have been the intercontinental ballistic missile fired by North Korea on November 29.
The captain of a Korean Air flight approaching South Korea’s Incheon Airport from San Francisco reported to ground control that he had seen a flash about one hour after the missile was launched from a site to the north of Pyongyang, Yonhap reported.
Four minutes later, the pilot of another Korean Air aircraft crossing the Sea of Japan inbound from Los Angeles reported a similar flash of light.
An official of the company said both aircraft landed without further incident and neither jet was in danger because the trajectory of the missile was sufficiently far away from their flight paths.
The crew of a Cathay Pacific flight in Japanese airspace reported a similar burst of light in the pre-dawn skies over the ocean.
A spokesman for the company told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper that the crew of flight CX893 reported, “Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location”.
It is not clear how close the missile came to commercial aircraft during its 50-minute flight, but airlines are taking precautions – at the same time as trying to avoid unnerving their passengers.
“We always consider the best route for each individual flight, depending on the information available from the weather and air traffic authorities”, an official of All Nippon Airways told The Telegraph.
“We continue gathering information and closely cooperating with the authorities, while maintaining safe operations”, the official said.
At a glance | Airline missile incidents
North Korea has been criticised for failing to warn international aviation or shipping authorities of its impending missile launches, a policy which could potentially endanger civilian aircraft and shipping.
In August, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines changed their flight routes to avoid crossing directly over the Sea of Japan and are instead flying close to the Japanese archipelago as they approach Japanese airports from Europe.
That precautionary measure was taken in response to the launch by North Korea of a series of short, medium and long-range missiles, including two long-range tests in July that were identified as Pyongyang’s first successful ICBM launches.
North Korea has subsequently fired two long-range missiles directly over northern Japan.
The airlines said the route changes were “purely precautionary” and would only “minimally lengthen” flight times.