A Cathay Pacific flight crew witnessed something they probably didn't expect to see on their journey last week: a North Korean missile.
A Cathay spokeswoman told the South China Morning Post that its crew on CX893 made a report on November 29 about the sighting, believing it was a missile tested by North Korea at 2:18 a.m. Hong Kong time.
"Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK missile blow up and fall apart near our current location", the crew reported, according to the airline's general manager of operations Mark Hoey. Experts said it could have reached any part of continental US.
North Korea does not typically announce their missile tests, which catch the world by surprise.
On Monday the US and South Korea started their largest ever joint air exercise, an operation Pyongyang has labelled an "all-out provocation".
The five-day Vigilant Ace drill involves 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops, Seoul's air force said.
The North has condemned the drills, saying over the weekend that the U.S. was "begging for nuclear war" and that it would "seriously consider" counter-measures to the exercises.More news: Alabama ranked No. 4, gets rubber match against Clemson
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As tensions surged, US Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican and foreign policy hawk, warned that the US was moving closer to "preemptive war" with the North. The report came about one hour after the missile was launched from a site north of Pyongyang, Yonhap reported.
The details of the test remain unclear, with a USA official saying the missile did not manage to make a re-entry into the earth atmosphere - the key problem of the rogue communist country's nuclear program. A missile carrying a significantly heavier nuclear warhead would most likely not have been able to travel as far.
On Monday, Tokyo's parliament labeled North Korea's weapons program an "imminent threat".
North Korea has long objected against joint drills by the two allies, with Pyongyang's ambassador to the United Nations ruling out negotiations with Washington in November, citing America's "hostile policy" against his country and continuing joint exercises.
Korean Air, a South Korean airline, also said two captains of its passenger planes saw flashes believed to be from the North's missile test while flying over Japan last Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
Estimates on the potential casualties from another war vary widely.
In one of the latest estimates, Scott Sagan, senior fellow at the Centre for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, said the toll could be as high as one million people from just the first day of a conflict.