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Early warning systems first suggested a North Korean missile could strike the United States, causing a temporary rush

It was “ugly,” said a US lawmaker briefed on the launch. Defense officials “didn’t have a good idea of ​​his capabilities” right away, the person added.

Early telemetry readings – which can be inaccurate and are often ignored as new data becomes available – suggest the missile could pose a threat as far as the Aleutian Islands off Alaska or the California coast, have two sources familiar with the matter told CNN. .

Within minutes, the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) dismissed these early readings and found that the missile posed no direct threat to the Americas. The test weapon – which sources said was a less maneuverable version of a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to evade missile defenses – splashed harmlessly in the sea between China and Japan, thousands of miles away of threatening America.

But in those few moments of uncertainty, the situation escalated quickly enough that the Federal Aviation Administration, which is part of a routine interagency discussion whenever there is a missile launch of this kind, grounded aircraft. planes to the west coast around 2:30 p.m. PST. Monday for about 15 minutes.

The grounding forced air traffic controllers to keep some aircraft on the ground, while briefly hijacking others in the air, according to air traffic control records, but controllers were puzzled when asked to explain to the pilots what caused the grounding. Some controllers mistakenly referred to it as a national ground stop, something that has not been seen since 9/11.

The question, now, is what triggered this initial emergency – and perhaps why the FAA reacted the way it did.

“What we are seeing here is just the normal process of coordination and communication from which some early decisions were made that probably did not need to be made,” the porter said on Thursday afternoon. word of the Department of Defense, John Kirby.

NORAD insists it was the FAA’s call to issue the ground stop and that it did not issue a warning or alert following the North Korean missile launch.

“As a precautionary measure, the FAA has temporarily suspended departures from certain West Coast airports,” the FAA said in a statement Tuesday. “The FAA regularly takes precautionary measures. We are reviewing the process around this ground stoppage as we are doing after all of these events.”

The FAA did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CNN on Thursday.

A US official said the ground stoppage was not communicated by the FAA Air Traffic Control System command center, based in Warrenton, Va., And instead surrendered directly in regional centers on the west coast.

Tuesday’s launch was the second such launch by North Korea in a week. But the first, last Thursday, was much less sophisticated, South Korean officials said.

US officials are still in their assessment of the most recent test, but analysts closely following North Korea’s weapons development programs identified the missile used on Tuesday as a so-called “re-entry vehicle. maneuverable “- still a hypersonic glide vehicle that can change course after re-entering the atmosphere but has limited range and handling compared to more advanced systems.

“It’s basically falling,” said Jeffrey Lewis, weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies. “It falls in style.”

Lewis said it was not unusual for detection systems such as radars or infrared satellites to have difficulty determining the path of a missile in the first moments after a launch.

“If it’s an old, regular ballistic missile, they can usually calculate it pretty well, but you have to wait until the engine stops firing,” he said. “That’s why you sometimes see errors, because you try to calculate it before the motor stops running, and if you’re at a funny angle you might be able to see that it goes up but not in which way. direction.”

In any case, there is no doubt that the launch violated UN Security Council resolutions which prohibit North Korea from all ballistic missile activity. And arms control experts have continued to warn that Pyongyang’s weapons development program continues to pose a long-term threat to the United States and its allies.

US officials familiar with North Korea’s weapons development programs say Pyongyang’s efforts to develop hypersonic missiles come as no surprise – North Korea has telegraphed its intention publicly – although some of the specific capabilities demonstrated by the missile launched on Tuesday were surprising. These sources declined to say which abilities were unknown.

In January last year, North Korea publicly declared that it had “completed research into the development of warheads for various combat missions, including hypersonic hover warheads for new type ballistic rockets. and that she was preparing their test manufacture “.

Yet after years of high-level diplomatic exchanges between former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Biden administration has so far taken a relatively low-key approach to Korea. North, although it continued to condemn the Pyongyang tests.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.