Seoul jets shadow HK-bound jumbo
By NICHOLAS IONIDES and ALAN MERRIDEW in Vancouver
TWO South Korean fighter aircraft intercepted and shadowed an Air Canada jumbo en route to Hong Kong from Vancouver in December after the jet strayed into Korean airspace without permission, the airline said yesterday.
The Boeing 747-400, carrying 175 passengers and 16 crew, strayed into Korean territory on December 29, just a week after the carrier's new services to Hong Kong were launched.
The passengers were not told of the incident.
The airline said the incursion had been a result of an error in filing a flight plan, as a computer system had broken down.
The airline mistakenly thought a message sent to South Korean air traffic controllers before the flight departed from Vancouver had been received.
The captain of Flight 837, David Edward, told Toronto's Globe and Mail two fighter jets 'had a look at us' moments after the 747 entered their airspace.
'They tucked right up underneath the airplane where the passengers could not see them,' he was quoted as saying.
'They weren't going to shoot us down or anything.' Captain Edward said the military planes had been close enough to set off the jumbo's anti-collision alarm.
The airline's Asia-Pacific regional director, Robert Pinkerton, confirmed the alarm had gone off, but said an internal inquiry had found the fighter jets were never closer than eight kilometres to the jumbo. 'The passengers were not in any danger whatsoever,' Mr Pinkerton said.
'It is not considered a serious incident.' In 1983, 269 people were killed when a Soviet fighter shot down a Korean Airlines jumbo en route from Anchorage to South Korea after it flew over Kamchatska and Sakhalin Island.
Air Canada said Captain Edward had been advised by South Korean air traffic controllers to turn back as soon as he entered South Korean space. The jet immediately returned to Japanese airspace. It was in South Korean territory for about 90 seconds.
The incident was reported to Canadian authorities and steps had been taken 'to confirm South Korean approval for use of their airspace by Air Canada'.