WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Four North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. Air Force plane in international airspace over the Sea of Japan early March 2, Defense Department officials said.
Two North Korean MiG-29 fighters and two other North Korean aircraft believed to be MiG-23s engaged an American RC-135S reconnaissance aircraft on a "routine mission" 150 miles off the coast of North Korea, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman said this afternoon.
The North Korean fighters "shadowed" the American plane for 22 minutes starting at 10:48 a.m. local time -- Saturday evening Eastern time. Davis said that the North Korean aircraft closed to within 50 feet of the American airplane at an equal altitude.
The fighters were armed and at least one may have engaged its fire-support radar and "locked on" to the American jet, he said. The RC-135S then returned unharmed to its home base in Kadena Air Base, Japan.
Defense officials said the incident is the first such direct hostile act by North Korea since MiG-17 fighters from that country shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 reconnaissance plane over the Sea of Japan in April 1969, killing all 31 persons aboard.
Fifteen months before that shootdown, North Korean sailors boarded and captured USS Pueblo (AGER 2) in international waters off the coast of North Korea. One American Sailor died defending the ship in the initial attack. North Korea held the surviving 82 crew members for 11 months before releasing them. All reported being beaten and tortured during their captivity. North Korea kept Pueblo and today maintains it as a museum and propaganda tool.