File photo of a North Korean Hwasong-15 missile. Image courtesy of CNN.
Last week, North Korea fired off its Hwasong-15 missile, the latest and most powerful weapon developed by the hermit nation, which is supposedly capable of reaching the east coast of the United States. However, as CNN reported, the test likely ended in failure when the missile reportedly broke up upon reentry, when the fast-moving projectile creates friction as it comes into contact with Earth's thick atmosphere. The missile's remains appeared to have splashed into waters west of Japan, in its exclusive economic zone.
The flight crew onboard Cathay Pacific flight 893, an Airbus A350-900 from San Francisco to Hong Kong, reportedly saw the missile as it reentered Earth's atmosphere. At the time, the aircraft was flying northeast of Japan, and the crew immediately notified Japanese aviation authorities after the incident occurred. Mark Hoey, Cathay Pacific's General Manager of Operations, said that the flight crew of CX893 told Japanese Air Traffic Control that they "witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near [their] current location." The flight went on to land in Hong Kong as scheduled.
Furthermore, it wasn't just the Cathay Pacific flight that saw the missile. As BBC reports, two South Korean aircraft, "en route from Seoul to the US," also observed the missile.
Before its missile launches, North Korea does not issue NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen), adding a potential safety hazard to the airspace above surrounding nations. In fact, earlier this year, Air France flight 293 from Tokyo-Haneda to Paris was flying west of Japan when a failed North Korean missile landed 93 miles northwest of Okushiri island, a location that is right under the flight path of the Air France jetliner. Had the aircraft been a few minutes late in departing, it would have come into close proximity with the missile. It's very scary considering that North Korea does not give advance notices prior to launching missile tests, and it is also extremely dangerous for passengers onboard flights traversing this area during the missile tests. Despite this, the odds of two objects coming into contact during flight are extremely low, and for the time being, there's nothing that passengers traveling near North Korean airspace need to worry about.