Flight Crew Saw North Korean Missile Break Apart, says Airline Executive

Flight Crew Saw North Korean Missile Break Apart, says Airline Executive

An airplane crew flying over Japan saw North Korea's missile as it plunged back through the atmosphere last week, their airline said Monday, as South Korea and the U.S. kicked off their largest ever joint air exercise.

According to the Associated Press, the crew reported seeing the missile re-enter the atmosphere over Japan during a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong on November 29.

North Korean missile tests in the past several months have led to tensions with the USA, 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".

North Korea does not typically announce their missile tests, which catch the world by surprise.

"Though the flight was far from the event location, the crew advised Japan ATC (air traffic control) according to procedures. We remain alert and review the situation as it evolves".

He said the crew had witnessed the missile "blow up and fall apart near our location" and that another Cathay Pacific flight - CX096 between Hong Kong and Anchorage in Alaska - may have been even closer.

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

North Korea's test last Wednesday of the Hwasong-15 ICBM saw the missile reach an altitude of 4,475km (2,780 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan after 53 minutes in the air, Pyongyang said.

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The Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrated a greater range than other missiles North Korea has tested.

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 company confirmed to the BBC that crew witnessed "what is suspected to be the re-entry" of the missile into the earth's atmosphere.

The test-launch raised tension further with South Korea and the United States, who on Monday began their largest ever joint air exercise, which the North has branded an "all-out provocation".

Washington has called on China, the North's major ally, to do more to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. "It's a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that could threaten everywhere in the world".

Defense Secretary James Mattis said he still had confidence in diplomatic efforts to address the North Korea situation, but that the US also has military options available.

According to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), that is a comment that needs to be taken seriously.

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