Thorough investigation is key

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Thorough investigation is key

South Korean marines fired shots at a civilian Asiana Airlines plane with 119 people on board that was heading to Incheon from China after mistaking it for a North Korean aircraft around dawn last Friday.

The soldiers manning a military post on Gyodong Island, south of North Korea’s coast, fired two warning shots at the plane as it flew southeast over Jumun Island, south of Gyodong, when it was descending to land at Incheon International Airport. Asiana said the plane was following its normal route and was not aware of the shooting. It seems that the warning shots were not directly aimed at the jetliner.

But the incident has been highlighted by foreign media, with some raising questions about the security of Korean airspace. As a result, the unprecedented incident will likely raise security questions among foreign airliners frequenting Incheon Airport amid high tensions between the two Koreas.

The international airport lies just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the sea border with North Korea near Ganghwa Island. Civilian airplanes can fly as close as 15 to 19 kilometers from the border, making it easy for jetliners to slip into the North’s airspace.

When an airliner is 80 kilometers from the airport, it must follow orders from air traffic control at Incheon Airport. Therefore, the latest incident might have occurred because of a mistake by the control tower. Or it could be the result of an overreaction by our marines guarding against potential North Korean military provocations following the latest harsh rhetoric from Pyongyang, which regularly blames Seoul for a prolonged confrontation on the Korean Peninsula.

Military officials have said that the marines fired at the plane because they saw an unidentifiable jet flying toward their direction. They might have made the mistake because dense fog had been present at the time. Whatever the case may be, the exact cause will be easily determined once the airliner’s flight records are studied.

Airline and military officials must thoroughly investigate the matter and announce the results as soon as possible. They must not hesitate in releasing the investigation results. The reputation of Incheon Airport, which prides itself as being the best in the region, is at risk.

Once the cause of the incident is determined, authorities must take measures to ensure that such incidents do not recur. We don’t even want to imagine a civilian airliner under attack by our own military.

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