South Korean arrested for opening plane’s emergency exit door faces up to 10 years in prison

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A man who opened an emergency exit door during a flight in South Korea was officially arrested on Sunday and faces up to 10 years in prison for violating the law on air safety, officials said.

During preliminary questioning, the 33-year-old told investigators he felt suffocated and tried to quickly get off the plane, police said.

Twelve people were slightly injured on Friday after he opened the door of the Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200, causing air explosions inside the cabin and terrifying passengers. Some testified to having suffered severe pain in their ears and saw others screaming and crying. A video shared on social media shows passengers’ hair being whipped by air blown into the cabin.

Normally, the emergency exit doors cannot be opened during flight due to the difference in air pressure inside and outside the aircraft. But in Friday’s incident, the man managed to open the door likely because the plane was flying low as it prepared to land and there wasn’t much of a pressure difference. , according to Asiana Airlines officials.

The Department for Transport said the plane was 213 meters (700 feet) away when the man opened the door. The plane was preparing to land in Daegu for a one-hour flight from the southern island of Jeju with 200 people on board. They included teenage athletes on their way to an athletics competition, according to Asiana Airlines.

On Sunday, a district court in Daegu approved a warrant to formally arrest the man. Police had previously requested the arrest warrant, citing the seriousness of the crime and the possibility that the man could flee, according to Daegu police.

‘I wanted to get off the plane soon,’ the man, whose face was covered in a black hoodie, cap and mask, told reporters outside court ahead of the examination. his arrest warrant. “I really feel sorry for the kids,” he said, likely referring to teenage athletes.

Daegu police said they have up to 20 days to investigate the man before determining whether to send him to prosecutors for a possible charge.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for violating the Air Safety Act which prohibits passengers from tampering with entry doors, emergency exit doors and other equipment at board, according to the Department of Transportation.

Daegu police said the man, surnamed Lee, told them he was stressed after recently losing his job and wanted to get off the plane quickly because he felt suffocated just before leaving. to land.

People transported to hospitals were mainly treated for minor problems such as breathing difficulties.

Asiana Airlines said in a statement that as of Sunday it had stopped the sale of emergency exit seats on its 174-seat A321-200 and 195-seat A321-200 aircraft as a safety measure. Lee was seated near the emergency exit, airline officials said.

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