It was “ugly,” one US lawmaker briefed on the launch said. Defense officials “didn’t have a good feel for its capabilities” right away, this person added.
Initial telemetry readings — which can be inaccurate and are often discarded as more data becomes available — suggested that the missile could pose a threat as far away as the Aleutian Islands off Alaska or the California coast, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
The grounding forced air traffic controllers to hold some aircraft on the ground, while briefly diverting others in the air, according to air traffic control recordings, but controllers were at a loss when asked to explain to pilots what had caused the grounding. Some controllers erroneously referred to it as a national ground stop, something which hasn’t been seen since 9/11.
The question, now, is what sparked that initial burst of urgency — and perhaps, why the FAA reacted the way that it did.
“What we’re seeing here is just the normal process of coordination and communication out of which early on some decisions were made that probably didn’t need to get made,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday afternoon.
NORAD insists that it was the FAA’s call to issue the ground stop and that it did not issue a warning or alert as a result of the North Korean missile launch.
“As a matter of precaution, the FAA temporarily paused departures at some airports along the West Coast,” the FAA said in a statement on Tuesday. “The FAA regularly takes precautionary measures. We are reviewing the process around this ground stop as we do after all such events.”
The FAA did not respond to CNN’s multiple requests for comment on Thursday.
A US official said the ground stop was not communicated through the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, based in Warrenton, Virginia, and instead went straight to regional centers on the West Coast.
US officials are still conducting their assessment of the most recent test, but analysts who closely track North Korea’s weapons development programs have identified the missile used on Tuesday as what is known as a “maneuverable reentry vehicle” — still a hypersonic glide vehicle that can alter course after reentering…