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U.S. apologizes to spy plane crash victims

Wreckage at the crash site
Wreckage at the crash site

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CNN's Tom Mintier says the U2 crashed in a civilian area about 10 miles from the air base where it was to have landed.
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• Interactive: Seoul, South Korea 

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- The United States has apologized to those people injured when a U.S U-2 spy plane crashed near the South Korean capital Seoul.

The reconnaissance plane went down about 35 miles (50 kilometers) south of Seoul, near Camp Humphries, a U.S. base, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The U.S. military says three people on the ground were injured on Sunday. Residents in the area said the plane also damaged a house and an automobile repair shop.

The pilot ejected from the plane suffering minor injuries.

It is not yet clear why the plane went down but some witnesses say the aircraft's engine was on fire before it hit the ground.

It is believed the aircraft took off from a U.S. air base in Osan, not far from the crash site in Hwasong City, south of Seoul.

About 37,000 U.S. troops are based in South Korea to provide defense against the communist North.

The two Koreas are divided by the DMZ -- one of the world's most heavily fortified borders -- since the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea -- currently in the middle of a standoff with Washington over Pyongyang's nuclear programs -- has often complained of American U-2 over-flights.

The U-2 is a single-seat, high-altitude, reconnaissance aircraft, capable of providing highly detailed imagery in all weather conditions and at day or night.

It is capable of flying at over 70,000 feet (21,336 meters) with a cruising speed of 475 mph (764 kph) and a range of more than 7,000 miles (11,260 km).

It was developed in a joint project between the military and the CIA to help counter what the U.S. saw was a growing military threat from the Soviet Union.

The plane became a household name in May 1960 when one was shot down over the then Soviet Union.

Its pilot, Gary Powers, was captured and sentenced to a Soviet prison camp for 10 years. After 17 months, Powers was released in exchange for a Soviet spy being held in the United States.

The U-2 was also involved in another Cold War crisis, playing a critical role in the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.

The plane was also used in the 1991 Gulf War as part of efforts to locate Iraqi Scud missile launchers.

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