Police detained a 33-year-old man suspected of throwing the door open, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported. Police said the man confessed to opening the door but would not say why he did it.
South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said in a statement that any person who breaches the Aviation Security Act — actions that include passengers operating doors, exits or equipment inside an aircraft — could be prosecuted and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
“I thought the plane was going to explode. … It looked like passengers next to the open door were fainting,” a passenger told Yonhap.
In a video that appeared to have been captured by a passenger and shared widely on social media and distributed by Reuters, wind whips the plane’s cabin, battering passengers and sending unsecured fabric flapping.
Nick Wilson, an associate professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, explained that an aircraft’s exits are designed to stay in place while withstanding significant pressure loads. “They’re basically stuck in there,” he said.
Along with other aircraft systems, the sealed doors and emergency exits keep the cabin pressurized at altitude. Without cabin pressurization, passengers may not be able to get enough oxygen and could lose consciousness. In the event of a rapid decompression at high altitude, he said, “you’re going to have some degradation in your ability to make coherent, useful choices.”
At lower altitudes, the pressure between the inside and outside of the plane decreases. At this point in the flight, the force on the door is not as strong.
“This individual appears to have been able to open a door on approach,” Wilson said. “At a lower elevation, there’s less differential pressure. That would be one of the important factors that allowed this door to be opened at all.”
Flight attendants tried but failed to stop the man, Yonhap reported. “Flight attendants shouted for help from male passengers and people all around clung to him and pulled him in,” a witness told the news agency.
The plane was carrying 200 people, including 194 passengers, South Korean outlets reported.
The airline’s office at the Daegu International could not immediately be reached for comment.