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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exploding Warhead Kills 3 After Soldiers Try to Open It

A missile warhead exploded in the Russian Far East, killing three soldiers who tried to break open its casing with a hammer in the hope of finding precious metals inside.

Sunday's accident, reported in the Russian daily Izvestia, took place in the military base of Start, more than 5,000 kilometers east of Moscow on Russia's Pacific coast.

Privates Artur Khachatryan, Zimar Idrisov and Yevgeny Shulzhenko went down to an arms warehouse during their break, stole the 80-kilogram warhead of a S-125 Neva surface-to-air missile and began pounding at it with a hammer.

The soldiers, all three of whom had only been serving a few months, had hoped to retrieve platinum, silver and gold from inside the warhead, Izvestia reported, adding that the soldiers did not know that the warhead was an old model containing none of the precious elements. The report did not explain how it had established the soldiers' motives.

The warhead exploded with such force that pieces of the soldiers' bodies could be found up to 400 meters from the scene. "The soldiers simply evaporated," one of their colleagues was quoted as saying.

The exact cause of the explosion remained unclear, Izvestia said, since the missile had three protective mechanisms designed to prevent such accidents. Izvestia said the officer on duty had left his post, leaving the warehouse keys unguarded.

Army officials in Moscow and in the Far East refused to comment.

Izvestia said thousands of outdated warheads are kept in Russian military warehouses, waiting to be officially destroyed. More than 4,000 missiles have been destroyed without any major incidents.

Corruption and malpractice, however are rife throughout the armed forces, the paper said, adding that soldiers frequently steal ammunition and weapons in order to sell them on the black market.

A few years ago, the newspaper reported, a guard was killed trying to open a similar missile casing with a bayonet at a military base near Moscow.