A South Korean man who opened an airplane's emergency exit door in midair was arrested Sunday, law enforcement said, and faces up to 10 years in prison.
The unidentified 33-year-old man was arrested for allegedly violating South Korea's aviation security law, The Associated Press reported. According to police, the man admitted to opening the door because he "felt suffocated" and wanted to get off the plane. A warrant had previously been issued for his arrest after prosecutors reportedly worried that he could try and flee before his trial.
The incident occurred this past Friday onboard an Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200 that was landing in Daegu, South Korea. An Asiana Airlines official told CNN the man allegedly opened the emergency exit door when the plane was about 700 feet from the ground. Videos circulating online showed panicked passengers appearing to struggle to breathe as air rushed into the cabin. Despite the door being opened, the plane was able to land safely, Asiana Airlines said, though at least 12 people suffered injuries.
Outside air pressure normally makes it impossible to open an airplane's emergency exit door in flight. However, Asiana Airlines told CNN that the man was able to open the door because the plane was close to landing. "The airplane is automatically set to adjust the pressure of the cabin according to the altitude of the aircraft ... when the altitude is low and close to landing, the door can be opened," the airline said.
Aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas of Airline Ratings additionally told CNN that the airplane's landing speed of 150 knots allowed the emergency door, which was located behind the wing, to be opened into the airstream flow.
Following the incident, Asiana Airlines said it would no longer sell the emergency exit seats on its A321 planes, a measure that will "apply even if the flights are full."