At approximately 4:17 p.m. on Tuesday this week, North Korea fired seven short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast into the Sea of Japan. While this in itself is not especially unusual for the world’s most secretive and hardline dictatorship, a genuinely unsettling detail later emerged that reflects the seriousness of the situation and just how close one group of civilians came to danger: Just six minutes after its launch, a China Southern Airways passenger plane passed directly through the path one missile had taken.
The plane, which was carrying around 154 passengers, was en route from Japan’s Narita Airport to Shenyang, China when it flew through the exact spot the missile had passed just moments before.
North Korea gave no warning whatsoever before firing its missiles – which would have resulted in flights through the airspace being grounded or rerouted – and later stated that its recent launches have been in response to military drills currently being carried out by U.S. and South Korean armed forces, which the North identifies as a display of aggression and says hints at its enemies’ desire to attack.
North Korea has conducted multiple missile launches in recent weeks, though this is the first that is thought to have posed any significant – whether intentional or not – threat to human life.