Officials said that a man who opened the emergency exit during a flight to S outh Korea was formally arrested on Sunday. He faces up 10 years of prison for violating aviation security laws.
According to police, during a preliminary interview, the 33-year old told investigators he was suffocated and tried to leave the plane as quickly as possible.
On Friday, 12 people suffered minor injuries after the Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200 door was opened. The air blew into the cabin, frightening passengers. Others testified that they saw other passengers screaming and crying and suffered severe earaches. In a shared video on social media, passengers’ hair is whipped up by the air being blown into the cabin.
Normaly, emergency exit doors can’t be opened in mid-flight because of the difference between the air pressure inside the plane and the outside. According to Asiana Airlines, it is likely that the man was able to open the emergency exit door because the plane had been flying at a very low altitude and the pressure difference wasn’t as great.
According to the Transport Ministry, the plane was 700 feet above the ground when the man opened the door. The plane, which had 200 passengers on board, was about to land in Daegu after an hour long flight from Jeju on the southern island. Asiana Airlines reported that among them were teenage athletes who were on their way to compete in a track-and-field competition.
A district court in Daegu issued a warrant for the formal arrest of the man on Sunday. Daegu Police said that they had sought an arrest warrant earlier, citing both the seriousness of the crime as well as the possibility that the man might flee.
The man told reporters in court, before the review of the arrest warrant, that he wanted to leave the plane as soon as possible. His face was covered with a black cap, a hoodie and a mask. He said: “I’m sorry to kids” in reference to teenage athletes.
Daegu Police said that they had up to 20 working days to investigate this man before deciding whether or not to refer him to the prosecutors to be indicted.
According to the Transport Ministry, if convicted, the man faces a maximum prison sentence of 10 year for violating the aviation safety law, which prohibits passengers from touching emergency exit doors, entry doors or other equipment aboard.
Daegu Police said that the man named Lee told them he felt stressed after losing his job and that he wished to leave the plane as soon as possible, because he felt suffocated before landing.
People who were brought to the hospital were treated primarily for minor issues such as breathing problems.
Asiana Airlines announced in a press release that, as a precautionary measure, the airline has stopped selling emergency exit seats for its A321-200 planes with 174 seats and A321-200s with 195 seats. Lee was near the emergency exit according to airline officials.