Officials from Hong Kong's flagship Cathay Pacific airline confirmed that the crew of a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong reported seeing North Korea's recent test of its most powerful ICBM conducted last Wednesday, according to the South China Morning Post. According to flight trackers, flight CX893 was over Japan when the missile was launched on November 29 at approximately 2:18 a.m. Hong Kong time. A spokeswoman from the airline said that the crew made a report of the suspected re-entry of the North Korean missile after the incident.
"Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location" said Mark Hoey, GM of operations at Cathay.
“Though the flight was far from the event location, the crew advised Japan ATC [air traffic control] according to procedure,” said the spokeswoman, adding that the sighting did not affect operations, and that while the airline will remain alert and review the situation with North Korea as it evolves, there are no plans to change any routes or operating procedures.
Rerouting affected routes is always an option, says Hong Kong lawmaker and former Cathay pilot Jeremy Tam Man-ho, adding that virtually no passenger planes are equipped with military-grade radar, making them susceptible to missile threats in the event a rogue nation targets them.
As Asia Times notes, a passenger jet has a very “slim” chance of escape if targeted by a missile, as seen in multiple past incidents, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in 2014, as well as a Korean Airlines plane that was downed by a Soviet fighter after it deviated from its original route in 1983.
Such incidents fall under the purview of Hong Kong's Security Bureau and Civil Aviation Department, which Tam Man-ho says should establish a panel to coordinate intelligence sharing efforts with their counterparts in the region, including Russia, Japan and South Korea.
According to a leaked memo by Mark Hoey, Cathay airlines will start providing satellite phones for crews on its flights bound for South Korea, Canada and the United States. More via Asia Times:
Several Hong Kong newspapers reported this Monday that satellite phones, among others, have been allocated to crews operating flights to and from South Korea in the event that if normal communication is rendered dysfunctional within the Seoul Flight Information Region should there be an attack from the north, Cathay pilots can still contact the airline’s Hong Kong headquarters.
A Cathay Pacific cargo flight from Hong Kong to Anchorage was also over Japan during the launch, and could have been quite a bit closer.
“Looking at the actual plots, CX096 may have been the closest, at a few hundred miles laterally,” Hoey wrote.