Two noncommissioned officers in the special forces have died of apparent suffocation and another has been injured after harsh training, the Army headquarters said Wednesday.
The staff sergeants, identified only by their family names, Lee and Cho, collapsed late Tuesday during a training exercise meant to help them survive captivity situations, which took place in their Special Warfare Command unit in the country‘s central town of Jeungpyeong, some 126 kilometers south of Seoul.
Isolated in a small cell with another staff sergeant surnamed Jeon, they spent more than an hour on their knees with their hands and feet bound while wearing polyester hoods over their faces, according to Army officers.
During the five-day program involving 24 members of the unit, the soldiers were exposed to the hardships they could suffer while being held captive, they added.
“The three lost consciousness during the training and were sent to a nearby hospital, but Lee and Cho were pronounced dead,” Army spokesman Choi Yong-han told reporters.
“Doctors say suffocation appears to be to blame for the deaths, while an investigation is under way into the exact cause of their deaths and exactly what happened to them,” he added.
Jeon has received treatment and has recovered enough to speak and walk on his own, according to a hospital official, who refused to be identified.
Taking a leaf from America’s book, the special forces members had been testing the captivity exercise before implementing it in earnest later this month.
While the Army said no physical assaults or torture took place during the training, it admitted to the leadership‘s failure “to properly manage the intensive and dangerous training.”
“In the past, the Command had carried out such training, but it was suspended for unidentified reasons. Upon the order of the commander, however, the special forces were to resume the exercise this year,” Choi said.
The bodies of Lee and Cho were taken to the Armed Forces Combined Hospital in the central city of Daejeon, and memorial altars were set up there, with discussions under way between the bereaved families and the authorities about the funeral process, according to military officers. (Yonhap)