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2 soldiers dead and 5 injured in K-9 howitzer fire

Cause is yet unknown, incident may damage vehicle’s export figures
Aug 21,2017
A K-9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer caught fire last Friday during a firing drill just south of the inter-Korean border in Cheorwon County, Gangwon, killing two soldiers and injuring five, according to South Korea’s military.

The precise cause is yet unknown, though North Korea was not mentioned. The Ministry of National Defense said Saturday that a team of experts have launched an investigation into the case.

The five injured soldiers sustained burns and bone fractures, but none were life-threatening, said the military.

Two are being hospitalized at the Armed Forces Capital Hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, while three are at a different hospital specialized in treating burns.

A 27-year-old sergeant first class was the first to die last Friday on his way to the hospital. A 22-year-old private first class died on Saturday while receiving medical treatment.

The accident took place at 3:19 p.m. on Friday at an Army firing range in Cheorwon, some 55 miles north of Seoul, when 10 K-9 Thunder self-propelled howitzers were deployed for a training exercise. A fire broke out in one of the vehicles, which contained seven soldiers.

The National Defense Ministry said it was looking into every possible cause, from a mechanical flaw to faulty management of ammunition, but downplayed any chance that a warhead had exploded, explaining that the damage would have been far greater if that was the case.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo visited the Armed Forces Capital Hospital on Saturday night and expressed his condolences to the victims’ families, saying he would find out the cause of the fire and make sure the soldiers receive the “highest level of respect” in medical treatment and compensation.

Army Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-woo visited the hospital as well and praised the soldiers for being “combat heroes,” echoing Song’s promise for reward.

The latest accident is expected to harm South Korea’s lucrative exportation of K-9 howitzers, which were manufactured by Samsung Group’s Samsung Techwin before the company was taken over by Hanwha Group in 2014 and renamed Hanwha Techwin.

The howitzers have been exported to several foreign countries, including Turkey.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]