|An Asiana Airlines' A321-200 aircraft is seen at Daegu International Airport after landing with an emergency exit open, Friday. Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
A 33-year-old man was arrested on Sunday for opening an emergency exit during an Asiana Airlines flight right before landing at Daegu International Airport.
The Daegu District Court issued the warrant, considering the gravity of the crime. The court also cited concerns that he may flee or try to destroy evidence.
The man identified only by his surname, Lee, pulled the lever of the emergency exit, Friday, while the aircraft, which departed from Jeju Island, was coming in to land at its destination. He was seated directly next to the emergency exit.
The plane landed safely, with none of the 194 passengers falling out of the plane or being injured. But nine were taken to a hospital right after landing due to breathing difficulties and vomiting as a consequence of the sudden air pressure change, as the door of the plane suddenly opened at an altitude of about 213 meters.
However, no one was in a serious condition, according to the airport and industry officials.
"Nobody was hurt as all passengers were wearing seat belts at the time," an Asiana Airlines official said.
The official noted that flight attendants were not able to stop Lee from pulling the exit door lever because they were also wearing seat belts as the plane was about to land.
The police took Lee into custody immediately after the plane landed and sought an arrest warrant for him, Saturday, for the alleged violation of the Aviation Security Law.
|A 33-year-old man, only identified by his surname Lee, is taken into the Daegu District Court in Daegu, Sunday, to attend an arrest warrant review for opening an emergency exit of an aircraft that was in midflight. Yonhap|
The law stipulates that those who operate doors and emergency exits of aircraft without authorization can face up to 10 years in prison.
According to witnesses, Lee attempted to jump out of the plane after opening the emergency exit, with flight attendants shouting for help and several passengers next to him trying to pull him in. This terrified the rest of the passengers, including 48 teenage athletes scheduled to take part in a national sports event in the nearby city of Ulsan on Saturday.
According to police, Lee said during questioning that he has been under a lot of stress after he lost his job recently. He also said he opened the door of the plane because he "felt stuffy and wanted to get out quickly."
|This image shows an opened emergency exit on an Asiana Airlines plane during flight, Friday. Yonhap|
Amid mounting concerns over a reoccurrence of similar incidents, Asiana Airlines, the country's second-biggest carrier, decided to stop selling certain emergency exit row seats on A321-200 passenger jets ― the same aircraft type as the one involved in the latest accident ― beginning Sunday.
The seats affected by the decision are seat 26A in 11 Asiana A321-200 airplanes which have 174 seats and seat 31A in three A321-200 airplanes, which can carry 195 passengers. In the two specific aircraft types, a passenger next to the emergency exit can reach the lever of the exit while still being seated.
Lee was seated in seat 31A of the A321-200 aircraft.
"The decision was made for the safety of passengers and is applied even when the aircraft is full," the airline said in a statement. "The application period has yet to be decided."
The company noted that it continues to sell exit row seats on other aircraft types.
Air Seoul and Air Premia are also considering suspending the sale of seats near the emergency exits.
An official from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said, "The move is not an initiative by the government. It is the decision of each company."
The decision, however, raised concerns, with critics claiming that passengers seated in the emergency exit row are requested to assist in an emergency evacuation situation, thus emptying the seats would compromise safety.
Meanwhile, five out of 48 teenage athletes, who were on the Jeju to Daegu flight, decided to return to Jeju Island by ship on Monday due to anxiety over traveling by plane, according to the Jeju Self-governing Provincial Office of Education.