Revelations that a failed North Korea missile crashed in a populated area has heightened fears the rogue state could accidentally start a nuclear war.

Kim Jong-un's failed missile test on April 28 last year was barely acknowledged by the US after it crashed shortly after launch.

However The Diplomat has revealed the missile crash-landed in the North Korean city of Tokchon causing significant damage to buildings there.

The publication quoted a US government source with knowledge of the North's weapons program as saying the missile's first stage engines failed around a minute into flight, resulting in "catastrophic failure".


According to the report the missile never rose higher than 70km before crashing into either industrial or agricultural buildings.

US Pacific Command said the missile was launched from close to Pukchang Airfield, a site that had previously not been used for ballistic missile tests.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo / AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo / AP

Due to the engine failure it was highly likely there was a large explosion when the missile crashed into the ground, with significant damage to buildings.

However The Diplomat said it was impossible to ascertain whether there was any loss of life.

The highly troubling report again highlights the dangers of North Korea's missile ambitions and raises concerns that should a future launch fail at the wrong time, the trajectory of the missile could appear to resemble an attack on Japan.

That in itself could drag the region into war.

The failed launch came at a time of increasing tension on the Korean peninsula and of heightened rhetoric between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump.

Earlier in the month North Korea had threatened the US with "nuclear justice" and "thermonuclear war".

North Korea has increased its nuclear activity over recent years. Photo / AP
North Korea has increased its nuclear activity over recent years. Photo / AP

Those threats came as North Korea held a massive parade in its capital Pyongyang on Saturday to mark the 105th anniversary of its founding father Kim Il Sung — and to showcase its military might. South Korea warned: "the show of force threatened the whole world."

The massive parade was held ahead of US vice-president Mike Pence's arrival in South Korea for diplomatic talks.

Another North Korea missile launch had failed before Pence's landed in Seoul, but that came from the seaside town of Sinpo and any early in-flight failure over the ocean would mean there was a low chance of hitting populated urban areas.

n the weeks after the failed April 28 launch one of three failures in that month — the Hwasong-12 enjoyed a successful launch on May 14.

A Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo / AP
A Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. Photo / AP

In November a successful Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch, the massive Hwasong-15 that led Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to label North Korea "a criminal nation", proved Kim Jong-un could reach "all parts of the US mainland", the communist state claimed.

The Diplomat report also claimed that North Korea's missile program was more advanced than the US and its Allies had anticipated despite the April 28 launch failure and its inherent dangers.

According to the article North Korea's missiles won't be sitting ducks on a launch pad in the event of an attack from the US or its Allies.

Instead a newly constructed series of tunnels, hangars and storage sites across the country has been built to better protect its military assets.