South Korea’s military has apologised after a missile it launched during a joint live-fire drill with the United States malfunctioned and crashed, causing alarm among residents of the coastal city of Gangneung.
The launch was supposed to be a show of strength in response to North Korea firing a missile over Japan for the first time in five years on Tuesday.
Instead, South Korean residents thought they were under attack from the North, already feeling uneasy over the increasingly provocative weapons tests by Pyongyang.
The panic and confusion only grew as military and government officials provided no explanation about the explosion for hours.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff eventually confirmed a South Korean Hyunmoo-2 missile failed shortly after launch and crashed during the drill, and that no one was hurt.
Footage shared on social media showed an orange ball of flames emerging from an area internet users described as near the air force base.
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During the same drill, the US military launched four of its own missiles that are part of the Army Tactical Missile System and South Korea fired another Hyunmoo-2 successfully.
The homegrown missile is key to South Korea’s pre-emptive and retaliatory strike strategies against North Korea, and is a version of a Russian-designed Iskander missile, which is also possessed by Pyongyang.
Kwon Seong-dong, a ruling party politician 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 an investigation.
South Korea’s military later said it was investigating the cause of the missile’s “abnormal flight”, and apologised for sparking alarm among residents.
South Korea and the US have been conducting firing and bombing drills in the Yellow Sea, including volleys of missiles.
A US aircraft carrier has been redeployed to South Korea’s east coast, following yesterday’s ballistic missile test by North Korea.