SEOUL: North Korea's rocket exploded mid-air before splashing down in the Yellow Sea off South Korea, Seoul's defence ministry said Friday.
"North Korea's rocket flew about one or two minutes before it exploded mid-air," the defence ministry said in a statement.
South Korea is currently conducting a search operation to retrieve the rocket debris, which fell in 20-odd pieces off South Korea's west coast, a defence ministry official said at a news briefing.
A US official who confirmed that North Korea had fired a long-range rocket in defiance of international warnings said that there's the possibility of "technical failure" behind the failure.
North Korea has said the rocket would place a satellite in orbit for peaceful research purposes, but Western critics see the launch as a thinly veiled ballistic missile test, banned by United Nations resolutions.
North Korea says its rocket launch is not a banned missile test and that it has every right to send the satellite up, to coincide with Sunday's centenary of the birth of its founding leader Kim Il-Sung.
The United States said Pyongyang's "failed" missile launch was a provocative act that breached its commitments and harmed Asian security.
"Despite the failure of its attempted missile launch, North Korea's provocative action threatens regional security, violates international law and contravenes its own recent commitments," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Carney also suggested that the failure of the missile launch was a blow to Pyongyang as it would make customers for its ballistic missile technology think twice about buying its wares.
China, a key diplomatic ally of North Korea, was silent, with China's foreign ministry yet to make a statement more than two hours after the launch was confirmed.
The UN Security Council will meet in emergency session on Friday to "to decide its next step" following the launch, a UN diplomat said.