Two deaths have been reported following the crash of a U.S. military helicopter in South Korea on Monday evening.
Officials said that the helicopter, believed to be an AH-64 Apache, came down on a mountain road near the city of Wonju. A U.S. military spokesman said that the crash site was around 42 miles southeast of the South Korean capital of Seoul, according to AFP.
U.S. helicopter burns up after crashing in South Korea
“The helicopter was burnt to ashes after catching fire,” a firefighter in Wonju said. The firefighter added that the two people aboard died at the scene, but the exact cause of the crash was not yet known.
According to Yonhap news agency there were no further casualties on the ground, nor was there any damage to property. It is thought that the helicopter belongs to the 2nd Infantry Division and was flying from Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.
“I went out after hearing a ‘bang’ sound twice and saw flames rising into the sky from the side of the road,” an unnamed resident was quoted as saying. An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing but authorities believe the aircraft could have hit a high-voltage electricity line or a steel pylon. The line was found at the scene of the crash and the top of a nearby tower was damaged.
Strong U.S. presence in South Korea due to continued tensions with North
“We offer our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the families of the soldiers involved in this tragic incident,” said Lt. Col. Mark Gillespie, the deputy commander of 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade. “Our first priority is to provide their families with the support they need during this difficult time.”
Around 28,500 U.S. troops are based in South Korea as part of a mutual defense pact signed during the 1950-53 Korean War. North and South Korea technically remain at war after the conflict was ended with a truce rather than a peace deal.
U.S. troops regularly participate in military drills with their South Korean counterparts in order to be prepared for renewed conflict with North Korea. The exercises fan the flames of tension with the North, which accuses the U.S. of provocation.
Planned talks provide hope for lasting peace between neighbors
On Monday the South Korean military carried out military drills using live ammunition on islands near a disputed maritime border with North Korea. Officials in Pyongyang had threatened to return fire if South Korean shells landed in its waters.
Tensions between the two neighbors continue to present problems for security in the region. Just a few months ago it seemed as though North Korea was preparing itself for the resumption of conflict, but crisis was averted at the last minute.
Now South Korean President Park Geun-hye has accepted the offer to hold working level talks with North Korea. The meeting will take place on November 26 and is thought to be a stepping stone towards high-level dialogue between the two nations.
Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has failed to improve the standard of living for its population. Continued research into nuclear weapons and missile systems has proved to be a huge drain on resources, and it will be intriguing to see whether talks with the South allow for a new direction for North Korea.