USA TODAY - Hundreds of American and South Korean military aircraft began a massive drill Monday, days after North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile it says is capable of striking the “whole” U.S. mainland.
Two dozen stealth jets from the U.S. Seventh Air Force were among the aircraft taking part in the five-day Vigilant Ace, an annual exercise in the Korean Peninsula. The exercise, which was scheduled before North Korea launched its new Hwasong-15 missile Wednesday, involves 230 aircraft and about 12,000 service members.
North Korea claims to have achieved its goal of becoming a nuclear state with the launch of the missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan.
North Korea’s state media said the drill pushes the Korean Peninsula “to the brink of nuclear war” and that it will “seriously consider” countermeasures. It said the U.S. and South Korea will “pay dearly for their provocations,” the official Korean Central News Agency said Sunday. Pyongyang believes the drills are preparation for invasion.
South Korea's defense ministry said a number of wartime scenarios will be played out, including simulated precision strikes on mock North Korean nuclear and missile targets, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
The Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific airline said crew members on one of its planes reported a suspected sighting of the missile test while flying over Japan en route from San Francisco to Hong Kong.
The airline said that their employees saw "what is suspected to be the re-entry" of the missile into the Earth's atmosphere, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported.
Mark Hoey, Cathay Pacific's general manager of operations, told staff in a memo: “Be advised, we witnessed the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) missile blow up and fall apart near our current location,” according to the newspaper.
“Though the flight was far from the event location, the crew advised Japan ATC (air traffic control) according to procedure,” a spokeswoman from the airline told the SCMP.
She said the airline was not changing any of its routes and would monitor and review the situation as it evolved.
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