TOKYO — North Korea lost 14 airmen to an accident during the launch of a long-range missile and satellite in 2009, according to a state media report issued Tuesday.
The deaths were revealed in a Korean Central News Agency story about North Korean premier Kim Jong Un’s visit to an air force unit, where he dedicated a monument.
The story said the 14 airmen died assisting the satellite Kwangmyongsong-2, which would correspond with North Korea’s 2009 launch of a missile that experts considered a major weaponry upgrade at the time.
The KCNA story praised “the suicidal-attack spirit of the fighter pilots who defied death to carry out the order of the party,” though it did not mention how the airmen died.
North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated and economically undeveloped nations, trumpets its perceived successes in daily news reports, but rarely mentions failures and tragedies.
In 2009, North Korea announced the satellite launch as a peaceful move aimed at broadcasting patriotic songs about its ruling dynasty.
Western observers were less concerned about what might be on the satellite than they were about the Unha-2 rocket used to launch it.