Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking

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Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking
Korean Airlines YS-11A Cargo type 大韓航空.jpg
An Korean Air Lines NAMC YS-11 in 1971; it is similar to the one involved to hijacking.
Date11 December 1969
SummaryHijacking by North Koreans
SiteSouth Korean Airspace
Aircraft typeYS-11
OperatorKorean Air Lines
Flight originGangneung Airbase, Gangneung, Gangwon, South Korea
DestinationGimpo International Airport, Seoul, South Korea
Fatalities0 (presumed)
Survivors51 (presumed)

The Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking occurred on 11 December 1969. The aircraft, a Korean Air Lines NAMC YS-11 flying a domestic route from Gangneung Airbase in Gangneung, Gangwon, South Korea to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, was hijacked at 12:25 PM by North Korean agent Cho Ch'ang-hŭi (조창희).[1][2] It was carrying four crewmembers and 46 passengers (excluding Cho); 39 of the passengers were returned two months later, but the crew and seven passengers remain in North Korea. The incident is seen in the South as an example of the North Korean abductions of South Koreans.[3]


According to passenger testimony, one of the passengers rose from his seat 10 minutes after takeoff and entered the cockpit, following which the aircraft changed direction and was joined by three Korean People's Air Force fighter jets.[4] The aircraft landed at Sǒndǒk Airfield near Wonsan at 1:18 pm.[5] North Korean soldiers boarded the aircraft afterwards, blindfolded the passengers, and instructed them to disembark.[4] The aircraft was damaged beyond repair on landing.[1] A member of the United States Air Force in South Korea was scheduled to be a passenger on the ill-fated flight, but instead caught a military transport flight at the last minute.[6]

A YS-11 similar to the hijacked plane.

North Korea claimed that the pilots had flown the aircraft there to protest the policies of then-President of South Korea Park Chung-hee. The passengers were subjected to attempts at indoctrination for up to four hours a day.[4] The South Korean police initially suspected that the co-pilot conspired with two North Korean agents in the hijacking.[7] The night after the hijacking, 100,000 South Koreans held a mass rally in freezing weather to protest about the hijacking, and burned an effigy of Kim Il-sung.[8]

On 25 December, North Korea proposed to hold talks on the matter.[9] Talks were finally held in late January 1970.[10] Sixty-six days after the incident, North Korea released 39 of the passengers on 14 February through the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, but kept the aircraft, crew, and remaining passengers.[11] The statements provided by the released passengers refuted North Korea's claims that the hijacking was led by the pilots; instead, they pinned the blame on one of the passengers. One man claimed to have looked out the window of the aircraft despite instructions from the North Korean guards, and saw the hijacker being driven away in a black sedan. Another passenger was reported to have become mentally deranged as a result of his captivity, and lost the ability to speak.[4]


The fate of most of the unreturned passengers has not been confirmed. They were educated, upper-class people; Song Yeong-in formerly of the National Intelligence Service commented at the families' committee inaugural meeting in 2008 that they were probably retained by North Korea specifically for their propaganda value.[12] Oh Kil-nam, who defected to the North for a time in 1986, said that he met the two flight attendants as well as the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation employees Hwang and Gim (see the list below) employed making propaganda broadcasts to the South[13] and that later he heard from his daughter that the captain and first officer were working for the Korean People's Air Force.[12] The flight attendant Seong Gyeong-hui's mother was allowed to visit the North in 2001 to see her daughter as part of the family reunions agreed to in the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration; there Seong said that she and the other flight attendant Jeong Gyeong-suk remained friends and were living in the same town.[5][12]

Son of unreturned passenger Hwang Won, Hwang In-cheol, who was only 2 years old at the time of the hijacking, set up the Korean Air Flight YS-11 Families Committee in 2008 to press the South Korean government to further investigate the issue. In 2009, he stated that he felt particularly "alienated" by the mass media attention shown to the 2009 imprisonment of American journalists by North Korea lasting 141 days, compared to the relative lack of coverage of the fate of his father, also a journalist, whom he has not seen in 40 years.[14] In June 2010, he applied to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the unreturned passengers as cases of forced disappearance; he spent six months preparing the application, with the help of his friends.[3] In February 2012, he filed a lawsuit against the North Korean spy who kidnapped his father.[15]

The tail number of the aircraft, HL5208, was retired as a result of the incident.[16]

List of unreturned passengers and crew[edit]

All four crew, as well as seven passengers, were not returned to the South.[17] The ages listed are those as of the time of the hijacking.[18]

  1. Yu Byeong-ha (유병하, 38) of Seoul, captain
  2. Choe Seok-man (최석만, 37) of Seoul, first officer
  3. Jeong Gyeong-suk (정경숙, 24) of Seoul, flight attendant
  4. Seong Gyeong-hui (성경희, 23) of Seoul, flight attendant
  5. Yi Dong-gi (이동기, 49) of Miryang, manager of a printing company
  6. Hwang Won (황원, 32) of Gangneung, programme director at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)
  7. Gim Bongju (김봉주, 27) of Gangneung, cameraman at MBC
  8. Chae Heon-deok (채헌덕, 37) of Gangneung, doctor
  9. Im Cheol-su (임철수, 49) of Yanggu, office worker
  10. Jang Ki-yeong (장기영, 40) of Uijeongbu, food industry businessman
  11. Choe Jeong-ung (최정웅, 28) of Wonju, Hankook Slate Company employee


  1. ^ a b Hijacking description, Aviation Safety Network, retrieved 20 February 2009
  2. ^ Gim, Su-yeol (2008-12-12), "39년전 대한민국은 국민 11명을 北에 버렸다", Daily NK, retrieved 2007-07-06
  3. ^ a b "Son of NK Kidnap Victim Seeks UN's Help", The Dong-a Ilbo, 2010-06-10, retrieved 2010-07-07
  4. ^ a b c d "Freed Koreans Retell Hijacking", Milwaukee Sentinel, 1970-02-16, retrieved 2010-07-07
  5. ^ a b "KAL기피랍사건", Doosan Encyclopedia, 2010, retrieved 2010-07-07[permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Piracy act charged by South Korea", The Bryan Times, 1969-12-11, retrieved 2010-07-07
  7. ^ "Copilot suspected in Korean hijacking", Los Angeles Times, 1969-12-15, retrieved 2010-07-07
  8. ^ "Hijacking Hit", Spokane Daily Chronicle, 1969-12-12, retrieved 2010-07-07
  9. ^ "Talks on Hijacking Proposed by North To South Koreans", The New York Times, 1969-12-16, retrieved 2010-07-07
  10. ^ "2 Sides Meet in Korea", The New York Times, 1970-01-27, retrieved 2010-07-07
  11. ^ "North Korea Releases 39 in Hijacking", The New York Times, 1970-02-15, retrieved 2010-07-07
  12. ^ a b c Um, Han-Ah (2007-10-05), "Fate of Abducted Korean Airlines Passengers Still Unclear", Open Radio for North Korea, archived from the original on 2011-07-27, retrieved 2017-12-29
  13. ^ "The terrible price of a Korean defection". BBC News. 2012-04-24.
  14. ^ Kim, Tae-Hong (2009-08-07), "141 Days of Hell, What about 40 Years?", The Daily NK, retrieved 2017-12-29
  15. ^ "S. Korean files suit against alleged NK spy over his abducted father". The Korea Times. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 2017-12-29.
    Paid copy as "S. Korean files suit against alleged N. Korean spy over his abducted father". Yonhap News. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 2017-12-29.(subscription required)
  16. ^ Kim, Rahn (2009-09-10), "Planes Have Retired Numbers", The Korea Times, retrieved 2010-07-06
  17. ^ "41년 만에 유엔서 재조명되는 북한의 국제범죄", Dongrip Shinmun, 2010-06-18, archived from the original on 2011-07-22, retrieved 2010-07-07
  18. ^ "KAL납북사건: 강릉→서울 비행중 고정간첩이 납치". Chosun Ilbo. 27 February 2002. Retrieved 22 January 2016.