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US Spy Plane Crashes in South Korea; 3 Slightly Injured

A U.S. military reconnaissance jet has crashed near an American air base in South Korea.

A U.S. Air Force spokeswoman from the Osan Air Base said the American pilot was treated for minor injuries after ejecting from the plane. Three people on the ground were slightly injured.

The single-engine U-2 jet went down in the town of Hwasung, about 10 kilometers west of the base, where a house and automobile repair shop caught fire. Witnesses said the jet hit the ground near the structures before plowing into a hillside. Three people on the ground were injured.

In a statement, Brigadier General Mark Beesley, vice commander of the 7th U.S. Air Force, apologized for the accident and said the U.S. military will ensure civilian damage claims are processed quickly.

The U-2 pilot was attached to the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron at Osan Air Base, about 50 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The high altitude jets are used to conduct surveillance of communist North Korea. The aircraft is considered ideal for intelligence gathering because it can fly above 20,000 meters for several hours at a time.

Nearly 40,000 American troops are based in South Korea, which has been divided from the North since the Korean War of the early 1950s.

Many South Koreans are demanding a reduction or the removal of American forces from the Korean peninsula. Such voices have grown louder following last month' acquittals in a U.S. military court of two American soldiers whose military vehicle hit and killed two local schoolgirls.

While South Koreans protest the U.S. military presence in their country, tensions between the United States and North Korea have escalated. In October, Pyongyang admitted to an illegal nuclear weapons development program, triggering an international crisis.