SEOUL, South Korea: A malfunctioning South Korean ballistic missile blew up as it plowed into the ground Wednesday during a live-fire drill with the United States that was a reprisal for North Korea’s successful launch a day earlier of a weapon that flew over Japan and has the range to strike the U.S. territory of Guam.
The explosion and subsequent fire panicked and confused residents of the coastal city of Gangneung, who were already uneasy over the increasingly provocative weapons tests by rival North Korea. Their concern that it could be a North Korean attack only grew as the military and government officials provided no explanation about the explosion for hours.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said no injuries were reported from the explosion, which involved a short-range Hyumoo-2 missile that crashed inside an air force base on the outskirts of the city.
A Joint Chiefs of Staff official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, said the missile’s warhead didn’t explode during the crash and that the fire was caused by burning rocket propellant. The official said the missile fell soon after liftoff and that no civilian facilities were affected.
Kwon Seong-dong, a governing party lawmaker representing Gangneung, wrote on Facebook that a “weapons system operated by our blood-like taxpayer money ended up threatening our own people” and called for the military to thoroughly investigate the missile failure. He also criticized the military for not issuing a notice about the failure while maintaining a media embargo on the joint drills.
“It was an irresponsible response,” Kwon wrote. “They don’t even have an official press release yet.”
South Korea’s military acknowledged the malfunction hours after internet users raised alarm about the blast and posted social media videos showing an orange ball of flames emerging from an area they described as near the air force base. It said it was investigating what caused the “abnormal flight” of the missile.
Officials at Gangneung’s fire department and city hall said emergency workers were dispatched to the air force base and a nearby army base in response to calls about a possible explosion but were sent back by military officials.