By Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean ballistic missile malfunctioned and crashed into the ground early Wednesday during a live-fire drill with the United States, panicking confused residents of a coastal city already uneasy over increasingly provocative weapons tests by rival North Korea.
The sound of the blast and subsequent fire led many in Gangneung to believe it could be a North Korean attack, concern that 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 have been reported from the accident, which involved a short-range Hyumoo-2 ballistic missile that crashed inside an air force base in the outskirts of the city.
The military said it was investigating what caused the “abnormal flight” of a missile that is a key weapon in South Korea’s preemptive and retaliatory strike strategies against the North.
The military said the test was meant to be a show of strength by South Korea and the United States, following North Korea’s firing of a nuclear-capable ballistic missile that crossed over Japan early Tuesday in North Korea’s most provocative weapons demonstration in years.
The launch extended a record number of North Korean launches this year as the country pushes to develop a fully fledged nuclear arsenal capable of threatening the U.S. mainland and its allies with the goal of being recognized as a nuclear state and wresting concessions from those countries.
The South Korean military’s acknowledgement of the missile malfunction came 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.
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.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday’s joint drills with the U.S. also involved firing four Army Tactical Missile Systems missiles and another Hyumoo-2 missile that successfully flew. The allies earlier on Tuesday launched fighter jets that fired weapons at a target off South Korea’s west coast.
North Korea has fired nearly 40 ballistic missiles over about 20 different launch events this year, exploiting Russia’s war on Ukraine and a deepened division in the U.N. Security Council to accelerate arms development.
The United States, Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council over the latest North Korean launch. Diplomats said it is likely to be held Wednesday, but it’s not certain whether it will be open or closed.