man Open emergency exit Bab was officially arrested while on a flight in South Korea on Sunday and faces up to 10 years in prison for violating the aviation security law, officials said.
During initial questioning, the 33-year-old told investigators he felt suffocated and tried to get off the plane quickly, according to police.
Twelve people were slightly injured on Friday after the door of an Asiana Airbus A321-200 opened, causing a blast of air inside the cabin and terrorizing passengers. Some testified that they experienced severe ear pain and saw others screaming and crying. A video circulating on social media shows passengers’ hair being whipped with air as it is blown into the cabin.
Normally, emergency exit doors cannot be opened mid-flight due to the difference in air pressure inside and outside the aircraft. But during Friday’s incident, the man managed to open the door likely because the plane was flying low while preparing to land and there wasn’t much difference in pressure, according to Asiana Airlines officials.
The Department of Transportation said the plane was at an altitude of 700 feet (213 metres) when the man opened the door. The plane was preparing to land in Daegu, an hour-long flight from the southern island of Jeju, with 200 people on board. Among them were teenage athletes on their way to a track and field competition, according to Asiana Airlines.
On Sunday, a local court in Daegu formally approved a warrant for the man’s arrest. Police earlier requested the arrest warrant, citing the seriousness of the crime and the possibility of the man’s escape, according to Daegu police.
“I wanted to get off the plane soon,” the man, whose face was covered by a black headscarf, hat and mask, told reporters in court before a review of his arrest warrant. “I’m really sorry for the kids,” he said, a possible reference to the teenage athletes.
Daegu police said they have up to 20 days to investigate the man before deciding whether to send him to prosecutors for a possible indictment.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for violating an aviation security law that bars passengers from handling entry doors, emergency exit doors and other equipment on board an aircraft, according to the Department of Transportation.
Daegu police said the man, whose surname is Lee, told them he was under stress after losing his job recently and that he wanted to get off the plane soon because he was feeling suffocated just before landing.
People who were hospitalized were mainly treated for minor problems such as breathing difficulties.
Asiana Airlines said in a statement that starting Sunday it has stopped selling emergency seats on its 174-seat A321-200 and 195-seat A321-200s as a precaution. Airline officials said Lee was seated near the emergency exit.