Airplane Flight Crew Gets Front Row Seat To North Korean Missile Test

North Korea says the Hwasong-15 missile seen here can reach the US mainland

A crew aboard a Cathay Pacific flight from San Francisco caught sight of North Korea's most powerful ballistic missile to date falling back to Earth, the airline said Monday.

The CX893 service, which was flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong from November 28 to 29 local time (HKT), was over Japan when North Korea's Hwasong-15 missile was launched, flight trackers indicated.

The South China Morning Post reports that the airline's general manager of operations Mark Hoey posted on the internal company communications platform to warn colleagues of the flight's proximity to the missile.

North Korean missile tests in the past several months have led to tensions with the US, as President Donald Trump has made multiple threats against the rogue nation and its leader Kim Jong-un, whom Trump has deemed "little rocket man". "We remain alert and (will) review the situation as it evolves".

Crew onboard a Cathay Pacific flight last week said they witnessed North Korea's latest missile test.

A plane takes off near the control tower at San Francisco International Airport on February 25, 2013 in San Francisco, Calif.

Cathay Pacific flight crew saw the missile re-entering the atmosphere
Image Cathay Pacific flight crew saw the missile re-entering the atmosphere

The AP reported the missile was in the air for almost an hour and reached an altitude of 2,780 miles before plummeting into the Sea of Japan about 600 miles from its launch point.

North Korea has developed ballistic missiles powerful enough to reach their intended targets, including those as far away as the continental US, and nuclear warheads for those weapons, but the North has struggled with re-entry vehicle technology, which ensures that the warhead survives the flight.

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".

The North has boasted that the Hwasong 15 ICBM tested on Wednesday is capable of delivering a "super-large" nuclear warhead anywhere in the U.S. mainland.

According to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that is a comment that needs to be taken seriously. North Korea likely chooses splashdown points for each stage that avoid airline routes, said Vipin Narang, an expert on nuclear strategy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (L) and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff speak to the press about the situation in North Korea at the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 3, 2017.

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