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Residents baffled by missile malfunction, lack of information fans rumors

Oct. 5, 2022 - 15:33 By Shim Woo-hyun

A missile which fell to the ground in a military airfield set off a fire in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province, Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Citizens living in the eastern coastal city of Gangneung, Gangwon Province, were panicked and confused by an explosion, thundering noises and a subsequent fire at a military airfield late Tuesday, while the country’s military remained silent about the accident caused by a missile malfunction throughout the night.

Residents in Gangneung said they saw a bright flash that accompanied loud noises at around 11 p.m. A video of an orange ball of flames emerging from an area close to the site was also posted online.

The video went viral, but citizens in the nearby area remained puzzled, as they were not notified about the joint South Korea-US live fire drill.

There were no local news reports relating to either the missile launches or the explosion. It was later found that no media reports were released, as local media outlets were under a media embargo on the joint exercises.

A post on Facebook made on Tuesday night complained that there were no news reports about the fire. The post said only rumors were spreading, as there were no official reports on the accident from both the government and media outlets.

Another person on Facebook wrote that he had figured that the fire was due to military exercises upon reading a Twitter thread on the accident. He asked why a fire broke out in the middle, as well as why there was no media report on the accident.

There were also some people who mistook the accident for an emergency situation. A post on Twitter said it could not be military exercises given that a normal military exercise would not usually create such a fire and launch missiles at night.

It was only at 7 a.m. the next day when the country’s military revealed that the explosion and subsequent fire were due to a missile malfunction of a short-range Hyumoo-2 missile. The military said a missile fell within the base after an abnormal flight. The propellant was burned, and the warhead itself did not explode, it explained. No casualties were reported, and the military is looking into the exact cause of the incident, it added. An official from South Korea’s military also noted that it is “very regrettable” that local residents were surprised by the military exercises.

Despite the government’s apology, people continued to criticize the government’s delayed response to the accident.

A man wrote on Facebook questioning whether it was right to maintain a media embargo even after the missile’s malfunction.

Kwon Seong-dong, a ruling People Power Party lawmaker representing Gangneung, also wrote on Facebook that a “weapons system operated by our (precious) taxpayer money ended up threatening our own people.” Kwon also said the military should make changes in their communication strategies, criticizing the its failure to issue a notice about the missile malfunction and its decision to maintain a media embargo on the joint drills.

Meanwhile, the public’s criticism of the military’s delayed response also sparked criticism against the current administration’s overall shortcomings, which is expected weigh further on President Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating.