South Korean authorities have detained a passenger after he opened a door of an Asiana Airlines 020560.KS plane shortly before the aircraft landed, the country's transportation ministry said on Friday.
The ministry said police had taken the passenger into custody and were investigating a possible violation of aviation safety laws.
South Korean police have launched an investigation after Asiana Airlines 020560.KS said a passenger opened a door on a flight shortly before the aircraft landed safely in the city of Daegu on Friday.
The Airbus A321 plane landed at Daegu airport at around 12:40 p.m. (0340 GMT) after departing from the island of Jeju an hour earlier, the airport's flight schedule showed.
No one was hurt in the incident, but nine people were transferred to a nearby hospital after suffering breathing issues, a Daegu fire department official said.
Eight of those taken to hospital were schoolchildren from Jeju, according to Jeju's education office.
"I thought the plane was going to explode ... It looked like passengers next to the open door were fainting," an unidentified 44-year-old passenger told the Yonhap News Agency.
Who opened the emergency exit door?
Authorities were questioning a passenger near an emergency exit row, Asiana officials said.
The passenger said the cabin crew had made an in-flight announcement asking if there were any doctors on board.
A video aired on television, reported to have been shot by a passenger, showed the moments before the landing, with a door open and wind rushing in as passengers sat nearby.
"Police are investigating the incident after a passenger who was sitting near the emergency exit said he touched its lever," one of the officials said.
The plane was two or three minutes from landing when a male passenger sitting next to an emergency door opened a cover and pulled a lever so the door opened about 200 meters (656 ft) above the ground, an Asiana spokesperson said.
A transport ministry official told Reuters that authorities were looking into whether Asiana Airlines had followed protocols to manage emergency exits.
The official said it was possible to open the emergency exit when the aircraft was near the ground as the pressure inside and outside the cabin were similar.
The plane was two or three minutes away from landing when the male passenger sitting next to an emergency exit opened a cover and pulled a lever so the door opened with the plane about 200 meters (656 ft) off the ground, an Asiana spokesperson said.
All onboard were seated with seat belts fastened because the plane was about to land, the spokesperson said.
After the incident, pictures showed an open emergency door near the plane's left wing and a deployed escape slide ripped away from it.
"It is particularly dangerous during landing and takeoff, so someone from the flight staff should have stopped that passenger," said Sohn Myong-hwan, a professor at South Korea's Sehan University's aviation maintenance department.
"To me, it seems difficult for the airline can get away from any potential responsibility here," he said.