An Asiana Airlines plane that two marines tried to shoot down with rifle fire Friday, thinking it was a North Korean aircraft, was on its regular flight path from Qingdao, China, according to the airline and government officials.
After the incident was reported, military officials said they shot at the plane because it was flying closer to the North Korean border than normal.
At 4 a.m. Friday morning, two South Korean marines on guard at a military base on Gyodong Island, off the coast near the border with the North, saw the blinking lights of Asiana Airlines flight No. 324, which was carrying 119 people as it approached Incheon International Airport through heavy fog, according to a South Korean military source. Thinking it was a North Korean aircraft, they shot two warning blanks toward the plane, which was flying at an altitude of 5,000 feet, but it was six to eight kilometers (five miles) away from where they fired. They then proceeded to shoot 99 rounds from a pair of K-2 assault rifles.
The K-2 rifles manufactured by Daewoo Precision Industries have an effective range of 500 to 600 meters (1,970 feet). The incident was immediately reported to the marines’ division after it happened, but the Ministry of National Defense did not issue an official statement about the incident as of yesterday.
Military officials said off the record that the plane was flying closer to the border than usual. But the Master Control and Reporting Center, which monitors aircraft flights over the Korean Peninsula detected no “unusual movement,” said a military official who asked not to be named.
According to an Asiana spokesperson, the plane was on course.
“The plane had been following orders from the control tower and the pilots and passengers onboard were unaware of the shooting,” said the Asiana spokesperson.
The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs also said yesterday there had been no commercial aircraft flying off course at the time of the incident. The ministry also said another civilian aircraft had taken the same flight path 20 minutes before the Asiana flight.
The military also conducted a check on the plane afterward and found no damage.
Asiana’s spokesman said the airline has no plans to pursue special action following the incident.
The military was criticized for the incident over the weekend, and some commentators said it was the result of Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin’s new “act first, report later” policy concerning possible attacks from North Korea. The marines could have caused serious damage had they been issued more powerful weapons, commentators said.
Military officials brushed off this criticism, saying soldiers need permission to gain use of more destructive weapons.
“To a guard, a plane in the fog at 4 in the morning could have been thought to be a hostile aircraft,” a South Korean Air Force official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But the sound of commercial and military aircraft is different. The fog may have made it worse, but they need to strengthen their ability to tell the difference.”