By Yoonjung Seo and Brad Lendon, CNN
Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — A man who opened the emergency door of an Asiana Airlines plane just before landing on Friday afternoon told police that he felt suffocated and wanted to get off the plane quickly.
The door of the jet opened as it was coming in to land in Daegu, South Korea, leaving wind whipping through the plane’s cabin as terrified passengers gripped their armrests, video of the incident shows.
An airline official said a man in his 30s who was sitting at the emergency seat seemed to have opened the door when the aircraft was about 700 feet (213 meters) above the ground and about two to three minutes from landing in the city 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Seoul.
However, company officials told CNN the plane had landed safely.
Local police said the man had been arrested at Daegu airport on Friday in connection with the incident. He told them he had been under a lot of stress after losing his job recently and had felt suffocated and wanted to get off the plane quickly, Yonhap news agency reported.
South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said in a statement Friday that police and the ministry were investigating an individual over violation of aviation law.
Any person who contravenes the Aviation Security Act, which includes passengers operating doors, exits, or equipment inside an aircraft, could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, the statement said.
The ministry also said that it had dispatched an aviation safety supervisor to the site to check whether there was an abnormality in aircraft maintenance.
A total of 200 people were on board, including 194 passengers, according to Asiana Airlines.
According to the Daegu Fire Department, 12 people suffered minor injuries from hyperventilation and nine of them have been sent to hospitals in Daegu.
The aircraft was identified on the Flightradar 24 tracking website as an Airbus 321.
The jet was on a flight from Jeju island, off South Korea’s southern coast, to Daegu.
Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas of Airline Ratings described the incident as “very bizarre.”
“Technically, it’s not possible to open those doors in flight,” he told CNN.
Thomas noted that the landing speed of an A321 is about 150 knots (172 mph), meaning winds of that speed are passing the aircraft. The door, behind the wing of the aircraft, opened into that airstream, he said.
“It seems implausible that the door could be opened in the first place and then against the airstream technically impossible, but somehow or another it has happened,” Thomas said.
Asiana Airlines told CNN: “The airplane is automatically set to adjust the pressure of the cabin according to the altitude of the aircraft. When the aircraft is high up in the air, it is impossible to open the door but when the altitude is low and close to landing, the door can be opened.”
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