The official says it was not a national land stop and may have been issued by a regional air traffic control facility.
“No warning was issued by NORAD’s headquarters,” regarding a potential threat to the United States, according to Captain Pamela Kunze, NORAD’s top spokeswoman.
The Federal Aviation Administration, responsible for the country’s air traffic control system, said the ground stop was a mistake by safety.
“As a precaution, the FAA temporarily suspended departures at some west coast airports Monday night,” the FAA said in a statement. “Full operations resumed in less than 15 minutes. The FAA takes regular precautions. We review the process around this ground stop, as we do after all such events.”
NORAD’s spokeswoman said the normal sequence after the launch was followed: The missile launch was detected and it was assessed not to be a threat to the continental United States. The standard practice is that the FAA has a constant connection in the NORAD ops center, and would therefore have been aware of the rapid assessment.
LiveATC flight control footage of Burbank Airport in California describes an air traffic controller telling a Southwest flight “there is the ground stopping all departures, all airports right now. The message we got is that it’s so far.”
Another recording of the control tower’s frequency in Hillsboro, Oregon, captures the controller, who tells the pilot of a Cessna to land, and says “we just got a message that we have to make a national land stop.”
A spokesman for San Diego International Airport told CNN that the airport “was instructed by Air Traffic Control that there was a national land stop, but shortly after (5-7 minutes) our operations team was told it was being lifted.”
Other West Coast airports contacted by CNN said they were unaware of the order.
It is not clear why the ground stoppage was put in place because a statement from the US Forces Korea said the test posed no threat to US or South Korean territory or military personnel, but “the missile launch highlights the destabilizing effect of (North Korea’s) illegal weapons program. “
North Korea carried out what is believed to be a ballistic missile test around 1 p.m. 07:27 local time Tuesday (17:27 ET Monday), the missile was fired from the interior and traveled east and fell into the sea.
The US Strategic Command and NORAD use satellites and radar to track every missile launch around the globe and are able to quickly assess whether a launch poses a threat to the United States.
North Korea is not publicly known for deploying a reliable long-range missile with a reliable capacity to reach the west coast, officials have previously told CNN, though North Korea has continued to develop its program, including progress with its long-range ballistic missiles.