When the North launched an intercontinental ballistic missile late last month, pilots from two Korean Air passenger planes said they spotted the engine blasts and reported the sighting to the Japanese aviation authorities.
While North Korea has claimed that their new weapon has put all parts of the United States within reach of a devastating strike, USA officials say the latest test was a failure since the missile broke apart on re-entry as the airliner witnessed. Korean Air hasn't specified how close its flight was to the missile.
On July 28 an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris, carrying 323 people, passed just 60 miles from the splashdown site of a North Korean missile test, roughly five to ten minutes after it hit the water. According to the report, the best chance the USA has in intercepting a ballistic missile is when it is on, or leaving the launch pad. That aircraft was crossing the Sea of Japan (the East Sea, as it's known in the Koreas) on a flight arriving to Incheon from Los Angeles. "At the moment, no one is changing any routes or operating parameters", the airline said in a statement.
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While the UN's Civil Aviation Organization mandates that nations must issue warnings whenever they take an action that could threaten commercial flights traveling through their airspace, South Korea has said North Korea often neglects to do so, according to CNN. The flight was far enough from the missile test not to be in danger, but The Guardian says the incident highlights the "unforeseen danger" of North Korea's tests.
David C. Wright, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, wrote in a report Tuesday that the Cathay crew most likely had seen the missile's first stage burn out and fall back to earth.
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