A Cathay Pacific flight crew saw the final moments of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch last week, according to the airline.
North Korea launched the missile in the early morning hours of Tuesday, Nov. 28 as a flight by the Hong Kong-based airline crossed the Pacific from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
After the missile reached its zenith some 2,780 miles (4,475 km) above Earth—over ten times higher than the International Space Station—it came down in a blaze, which a senior Cathay Pacific executive said was observed by the flight crew, according to the South China Morning Post.
“Today the crew of CX893 reported, ‘Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location,” the airline’s operations manager Mark Hoey wrote in a message on a company communication platform, the Post reported.
Hoey told staff the flight crew had advised air traffic control and that operations on the flight were normal.
In an emailed response, Cathay Pacific confirmed the incident and responded to the potential threat posed by North Korea’s missile tests.
“At the moment, no one is changing any routes or operating parameters,” the airline said.
“We remain alert and review the situation as it evolves.”
Given the arbitrary nature of the tests, it is possible that a North Korean missile could hit an airplane traveling through airspace near the launch site.
North Korea’s last missile launch marked a major evolution in the communist country’s ballistic missile program. Its new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile is larger and more powerful than previous missiles and credibly able to carry a nuclear warhead.
But analysts note the missile would require a re-entry vehicle that could withstand the heat and pressure of descent to deliver an intact nuclear warhead to the ground.
The flight crew’s description of the missile breaking up during re-entry suggests the regime’s nuclear weapon program still has not yet developed that vehicle, though the regime itself has claimed it has completed its “state nuclear force.”
“With this system, the DPRK [North Korea] has become possessed of another new-type intercontinental ballistic rocket weaponry system capable of carrying super heavy nuclear warheads and attacking the whole mainland of the U.S.,” reported North Korea’s state-run KCNA on Nov. 29.
While few believe the regime’s program is complete, the threat posed by the new missile is significant, warned United States Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis.
“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken. It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that could threaten everywhere in the world.”
President Donald Trump has said that the United States would handle the North Korean situation, but did not specify details.
According to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that is a comment that needs to be taken seriously.
“The president has said,‘We’ll take care of it’—not the United Nations, not China—‘We’ll take care of it.’ My hope is that North Korea will realize he is serious about this. The president is not going to allow North Korea to have a nuclear weapon in their hands that can hit America,” Graham told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Nov. 29.
“We’re not going to let this crazy man in North Korea have the capability to hit the homeland,” he said.
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