South Korea says it has scrambled fighter jets and attack helicopters, firing warning shots, after North Korean drones “violated” its airspace.
The country’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, a group of chiefs from each major branch of the armed services, said several unmanned North Korean drones crossed the border and were detected in the South’s territory on Monday.
It marks the first time the devices have entered South Korean airspace since 2017, when a suspected drone was found crashed in the country.
While working to counter the drones, a South Korean KA-1 light attack aircraft crashed shortly after departing its base in the country’s eastern area of Wonju, a defence ministry official said.
Its two pilots were able to escape before the crash and are were taken to hospital.
According to the South’s Yonhap news agency, the country tracked the drones crossing from North Korea over what is known as the Military Demarcation Line – the land border surrounded by a demilitarised zone – between the two countries.
One North Korean drone also briefly flew over the South’s capital city, Seoul, according to the South Korean news agency NEWS1.
The country’s transport ministry said earlier flights departing from its Incheon and Gimpo airports were suspended following a request from the military.
North Korea has previously touted its drone program, and South Korean officials said the North has about 300 drones.
In 2014, several suspected North Korean drones were found south of the border, with experts describing them as low-tech but still a potential security threat.
Incident comes days after missile launch
The incident on Boxing Day comes just days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The launch was seen as a protest at joint air drills being conducted by the South and the US, which North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal.
This year, North Korea has conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests in what some experts call an attempt to improve its weapons and pressure rivals to make concessions, such as lifting sanctions, in future negotiations.
Recently, the North has also claimed to have performed major tests needed to acquire its first spy satellite and a missile capable of reaching the US.