by Asuna, October 4, 2020

Crash Landing on You is a late 2019 to early 2020 drama that aired on tvN and was then distributed by Netflix internationally, where it gained wide popularity. It tells the story of a South Korean woman being stranded in the North, where most of the drama takes place. North Korea is a very seclusive, secretive, isolated country. Most of us know almost nothing about it, aside from the fact that Kim Jong Un is their leader, that Donald Trump called him "Rocket Man ", and all the missile firing tests that pop up in the news every now and then. But what lies beneath that layer of secrecy is a fascinating country that is worth learning more about. Now does Crash Landing on You actually help us in that regard, or is it highly inaccurate and mostly made up?

In this article (or maybe even series), I want to go over the first (or each) episode and pick out a few scenes and things that stuck out to me while watching, and check to see how they compare to reality. I also want to make clear that I am not an expert on any of these matters, and that I might not always be fully on point either. I am researching everything I write here to the best of my knowledge and ability, but especially with a place like North Korea, it can sometimes be challenging to be 100% sure of things. I will link to all my references and sources, so check them out if you want to dive deeper, and if you find any mistakes, please let me know!

So let's get started!

Episode 1 starts off with some backstory and character-building until we find Se Ri standing on a hill/mountain, where she prepares to go paragliding. We never get to know where exactly that is, but we can try to see if we can find out. When looking for paragliding spots in Korea, we quickly find out that there are two popular spots in the country - Danyang and Yangpyeong [1]. Now if we look at the map, we can assume that Yangpyeong is where this scene is supposed to be at. One for the close proximity to Seoul, and also because of how close it is to the DMZ. I found out that it was filmed at neither of these places, but at the observatory at Bongrae mountain in Gangwon-do [2]. However, this seems not to be a prime paragliding location, and also it is quite far south. So I will stick with the assumption that Yangpyeong is where she started.

Figure 1 - 1: Yangpyeong / 2: Danyang / 3: Observatory | Map created using [16]

Shortly after she took off, we see a tractor flying through the air, which of course is something that shouldn't be happening. The reason for the unexpected flight companions is that a tornado is building right next to her. This actually is quite unlikely, since Korea basically never encounters any tornadoes. There has only ever been one tornado that was reported on the mainland in 2014 [3], but even though it is unlikely, that does mean that it is definitely possible! I have read that the reason why Korea sees almost no tornados is due to the fact that Korea as a country is quite hilly/mountainous and that the seas around the peninsula are fast and unstable [4], however, I did not find a reliable source for Korea specifically only this quora threat, but I did find this: "Mountains, however, have much colder air, which is more stable and rarely creates conditions for storms. "-Kate Kershner [5]. Even though this refers to the US, I am at peace with this explanation, that while it is definitely possible for tornadoes to appear in mountainous regions, say Korea, it is just not as likely. 

Figure 2 - Se Ri and another Paraglider staring down at the tornado that formed next to them [17]

Anyways, back to the scene. We saw that the weather was not too bad when she took off, but it was mentioned that it was windy even before she did. Tornadoes mostly occur during a thunderstorm, however, this also is not a must [6,7]. What does all that mean for us? That this could have all happened, even if it is quite unlikely. The last "paragliding scene" related question I had was, would she be able to stay up in the air, fly far enough and stay undetected? I have found that Ewa Wisnerska has, in fact, survived a storm during which she was paragliding, being taken up to heights of almost 10km while becoming unconscious along the way [8]. I also found a video of a man being pulled up by a small storm, and while he was being thrown around quite a lot, he also was fine and managed to stay up in the air [9]. Getting back to Ewa, she travelled for roughly 40 miles in the air, which would almost be enough to carry her into the DMZ from Yangpyeong, but paragliders have travelled for hundreds of kilometres before, so again it is definitely possible to travel the 50ish miles North [10]. With that, I will again be satisfied and conclude it as possible, and I will finally move on from the paragliding.

Or so I thought. Actually, there is one more thing that I would at least like to look into. And that is the fact that she flew into NK undetected. They mention that the radar did not catch her, and neither did the thermographic camera. Since radar needs line of sight to function, it does make a lot of sense that she went unnoticed. So many things were being tossed around due to the heavy storm, so the radar vision was surely obstructed. Also, she was flying quite low as well, which means she might have already flown under the radar anyway [11], or behind other obstacles like trees once she entered the DMZ area.

Figure 3 - Thermographic Image of Fighter Jets [18]

As for the thermographic camera, such a camera picks up the electromagnetic waves emitted by anything warmer than absolute zero, which of course also includes Se Ri. Now for one, it could again be a case of her being hidden behind some obstacles. This might have again obscure vision of her, or of the electromagnetic waves, she emitted [12]. I guess she could have also flown outside, or below, the region that the camera actually records (field of view), even though thermal cameras can function on distances quite far from where they are put up [13]. And lastly, while these types of cameras are most certainly used in aviation [14], I think, and this is only me guessing, that these cameras are not set up to alarm at temperatures of 37 degrees centigrade or 100 degrees Fahrenheit when trying to detect invading planes. Birds have a body temperature of around 106 degrees Fahrenheit [15], so it would be impractical to have the system go off every other minute, and since planes will be much hotter anyways, I think upping the threshold would make sense. This would also hold up with what Pyo Chi Su said when he mentioned the reason she wasn't seen was that she was in an unpowered aircraft. And how often will someone try to paraglide into the DMZ? I doubt that this is a regular occurrence, and even if it does happen sometimes, usually paragliders can be spotted quite easily by the human eye. And lastly, we also learn quickly, that the men stationed at the DMZ at the time were not paying much attention anyway, so even if she would have been visible, chances of her being overlooked due to the guards watch Korean Dramas or the like, are far higher than they should be.

Figure 4 - Pyo Chi Su telling his comrades that Se Ri was unspottable [17] 

Okay, to be fully honest, I thought that at this point, I would be done with the entirety of Episode 1, maybe even more. But once I started digging a bit deeper, I just ended up going down, deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of wanting an explanation for everything extraordinary that was happening on screen. I have no idea if this is interesting to anybody, but I wanted to give it a shot and write it up since I have now done all the research up until this point in the episode! Please let me know what you guys think.

This article ended up with much less fact-checking about North Korea than I had planned, but that will hopefully change next time. I did like looking into the whole "Is it possible to accidentally paraglide into North Korea" under the circumstances that were given, but it was not originally what I wanted to get into.

In the next part of this series (in case there will be the next part), we will look a bit more at the DMZ, the North Korean Soldiers, at the village, the people of North Korea and a few other things that might catch my interest. 

And lastly, I want to point out again that I am not an expert. I can not guarantee for the correctness of everything that I wrote. I tried my best to research answers for all the questions that I had from sources that seem reliable, which are all linked below. If you know better, or if you want to check and research for yourself, please do so, and let me know if anything that I wrote here is incorrect.

References: [1] The Ultimate Guide to Paragliding in Korea; [2] [Filming Location] Crash Landing on You; [3] Climate change having an effect on the Korean peninsula; [4] Does Korea get tornadoes?; [5] Do tornadoes really avoid mountains?; [6] Forget tornado weather — these twisters can develop without a strong thunderstorm; [7] Tornadoes, explained; [8] Paraglider survived in a storm at 32,000 ft; [9] Paraglider landed 180km away after being thrown off a cliff by the dust devil; [10] WORLD RECORDS TUMBLE ON BIG DAY IN BRAZIL; [11] Missing Malaysia plane flew at 5,000ft and used 'terrain masking' to avoid radar detection; [12] Can Thermal Imaging See Through Walls? And Other Common Questions; [13] Thermal imaging: how far can you see with it?; [14] Thermal Imaging in Aviation; [15] How Do Birds Cope With Cold in Winter; [16] Map Customizer; [17] Netflix| Crash Landing on You Episode 1; [18] What to consider before purchasing an IR camera for Range Applications

Edited by: Cookie (1st editor) & Jojo (2nd editor)

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