A thunderous explosion ripped apart a 40,000-gallon fuel tank Saturday at the U.S. Air Force base at Osan, killing 15 people and setting off a huge fire that raged for hours, the U.S. military said.
Twelve people were reported injured. A U.S. military official in Seoul said today that all of the victims were believed to be Koreans.
“Something went off suddenly with a big bang,” a South Korean woman working in the area said.
Lt. Col. Larry Greer, an Air Force spokesman in Washington, said the explosion occurred in a fuel storage area.
No Sign of Foul Play
“We’ve got no evidence to believe foul play was involved. It occurred as they were filling a . . . fuel tank with jet fuel as part of the normal operations there. That’s where the explosion and fire occurred. There were a number of Korean contractors around the storage tank doing some work on the area very close to the tank. That accounted for the rather high number of injuries and fatalities,” Greer said.
Billy Fullerton, the U.S. military spokesman in Seoul, said there was no immediate indication that the cause was other than accidental, and no sabotage or terrorism was suspected.
Osan, 37 miles south of Seoul, is a major base for the U.S. Air Force in this country, where about 40,000 American military personnel are stationed.
Grieving Korean families waited outside the gates of the base while casualties were brought out and taken to nearby hospitals.
New Turf Near Tank
About 30 Korean civilians were reported at work, placing new turf in the immediate area of the tank, when the explosion came.
One of the workers, Kim Chong Soon, 47, said in a telephone interview from the hospital where she was taken with back injuries: “Something went off suddenly with a big bang, sending fragments and stones flying into the sky . . . and flames.”
She said she and the other civilians were employed by a Korean service company for work projects on the base. Large numbers of such contract workers are employed in various roles at American military installations here.