Seoul airport shut as N. Korea continues to send rubbish-filled balloons

Takeoffs and landings at Incheon International Seoul Airport in South Korea were disrupted for about three hours due to balloons filled with rubbish launched by North Korea, according to an airport spokesperson. One balloon landed on the tarmac near passenger terminal two, causing the temporary shutdown of the airport’s three runways on Wednesday.

North Korea has been sending these rubbish-filled balloons into South Korea since late May, with hundreds landing in the country. Several balloons were spotted within the airport’s boundaries, which is not the first time balloon-related disruptions have occurred at the airport, located approximately 40km from the North Korean border.

The disruption to both domestic and international flights occurred between 1:46 am and 4:44 am on Wednesday, after which the runways were reopened, as reported by Incheon International Airport Corporation.

Although flight volume is usually low during this time, FlightRadar24 showed that eight arriving cargo and passenger flights were diverted to Cheongju or Jeju airports, and one China Cargo flight from Shanghai was diverted to Yantai, China. Several other landings and departures were delayed by several hours.

North Korea claims the balloons are in retaliation for a propaganda campaign by defectors and activists in South Korea who send balloons carrying food, medicine, money, and leaflets criticizing the North’s leaders.

The items carried by the North Korean balloons include articles with Hello Kitty characters, worn clothing, and soil containing human feces and parasites. South Korea’s military reported that about 100 balloons landed between Tuesday and Wednesday, mostly in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi province, with most balloons carrying only scraps of paper.

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