Seoul: A man who opened an emergency exit door during a flight in South Korea was formally arrested on Sunday and faces up to ten years in prison on a charge of violating aviation security law, according to officials.
According to police, during preliminary questioning, the 33-year-old told investigators that he felt suffocated and tried to get off the plane as soon as possible.
On Friday, he opened the door of an Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200, causing air to blast inside the cabin and frightening passengers. Some testified that they had severe ear pain and witnessed others screaming and crying. A video shared on social media shows passengers' hair being whipped by air blowing into the cabin.
Because of the difference in air pressure between the inside and outside of the aircraft, the emergency exit doors cannot normally be opened mid-flight. According to Asiana Airlines officials, the man was able to open the door on Friday because the plane was flying at a low altitude while preparing to land and there wasn't much difference in pressure.
According to the Transport Ministry, the plane was at 213 metres when the man opened the door. The plane, carrying 200 people, was preparing to land in Daegu after an hour-long flight from the southern island of Jeju. According to Asiana Airlines, they included teenage athletes on their way to a track and field competition.
On Sunday, a Daegu district court issued an arrest warrant for the man. According to Daegu police, the arrest warrant was sought earlier due to the gravity of the crime and the possibility that the man would flee.
"I wanted to get off the plane as soon as possible," the man, who was wearing a black hoodie, a cap, and a mask, told reporters at the court before it reviewed his arrest warrant. "I'm really sorry to the kids," he said, presumably referring to the adolescent athletes.
Daegu police said they will investigate the man for up to 20 days before deciding whether to refer him to prosecutors for possible indictment.
According to the Transport Ministry, if convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison for violating the aviation security law, which prohibits passengers from handling entry doors, emergency exit doors, and other equipment on board.
According to Daegu police, the man, surnamed Lee, told them he was stressed after recently losing a job and that he wanted to get out of the plane as soon as possible because he felt suffocated just before landing.
People who were taken to hospitals were mostly treated for minor ailments such as breathing problems.
As a safety precaution, Asiana Airlines said in a statement that it will no longer sell emergency exit seats on its 174-seat A321-200 planes and 195-seat A321-200 planes beginning Sunday. According to airline officials, Lee was seated near the emergency exit