A China Southern Airlines Co. airplane carrying 220 passengers passed through the trajectory of a rocket launched seven minutes earlier by North Korea, a South Korean official said.
China Southern flight CZ628, operating as a code-share with Japan Airlines Co. as flight JL5021, was headed to Shenyang, China from Narita airport in Japan when North Korea fired the missile at 4:17 p.m. yesterday, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said today by phone. The jet was over international water at an altitude of 10 kilometers (32,800 feet) at 4:24 p.m. when it crossed the trajectory of the missile, which reached a height of 20 kilometers, Kim said.
“The rocket could have hit the plane on its way down,” Kim said. “North Korea had not given any warning. It was an unexpected and immoral act that goes against international norms.” The ministry has notified China through “certain channels” of the closeness of the trajectory, he said.
North Korea’s missile launches coincide with joint U.S.- South Korean military drills that Kim Jong Un’s regime has denounced as a rehearsal for war. The rocket launches began on Feb. 21, disrupting a period of easing tensions between the two Koreas highlighted by the first reunions in more than three years of families divided by the 1950-1953 Korean War.
China Southern Airlines’ public relations department didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on the flight. Mao Lixing, from the company’s investor relations department, said she couldn’t immediately respond. The Chinese Embassy in Seoul didn’t answer a call seeking comment.
China Southern, the nation’s biggest domestic carrier, fell 1.9 percent in Hong Kong trading, the most since Feb. 20. Air China Ltd. declined 0.6 percent, while China Eastern Airlines Corp., the second-largest carrier, closed unchanged after earlier dropping as much as 0.7 percent. Japan Airlines closed 1.2 percent lower in Tokyo.
Flight JL5021, operated by China Southern, departed at 2:16 pm from Narita yesterday, according to JAL’s website.
North Korea fired a total of seven short-range missiles yesterday into the sea, including four that South Korea’s Defense Ministry estimated flew more than 150 kilometers (93 miles), far enough to reach its capital Seoul.
The rockets hit their targeted areas off the eastern coast “precisely,” the official Korean Central News Agency said today, citing a North Korean military spokesman it didn’t identify. North Korea has the right to launch rockets in self-defense and will not abandon its nuclear deterrent for the sake of dialogue, the spokesman said in the report.
“There are no signs a nuclear test is imminent in the North,” South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan Jin told lawmakers at a hearing today. “North Korea has completed basic preparations for a long-range missile launch.”
All North Korean troops are on “special alert” in response to the U.S.-South Korean drills that began Feb. 24, senior South Korea Defense Ministry official Kim Kwang Woo said at the same hearing. The North also continues construction at its long-range missile launch site, he said.
Earlier today, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a text message that it delivered the North a proposal for talks on regularly holding family reunions.
South Korea diverted its commercial airplanes to avoid collisions before the North launched long-range rockets in 2012. The short-range launches yesterday could not be predicted, the defense minister said.
“Our military is closely monitoring for additional launches,” Kim said. “It’s difficult to predict North Korea’s actions.”
North Korea fired its rockets yesterday from mobile launchers and four of them are believed to be capable of flying as far as 180 kilometers, he said.