Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking
|Date||11 December 1969|
|Flight origin||Gangneung Airbase|
|Destination||Gimpo International Airport|
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-do to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, was hijacked at 12:25 PM by North Korean agent Cho Ch'ang-hǔi (조창희). 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.
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. The aircraft landed at Sǒndǒk Airfield near Wonsan at 1:18 PM. North Korean soldiers boarded the aircraft afterwards, blindfolded the passengers, and instructed them to disembark. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair on landing. 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.
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. The South Korean police initially suspected that the co-pilot conspired with two North Korean agents in the hijacking. The night after the hijacking, 100,000 South Koreans held a mass rally in freezing weather to protest the hijacking, and burned an effigy of Kim Il-sung.
On 25 December, North Korea proposed to hold talks on the matter. Talks were finally held in late January 1970. 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. 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.
The fate of most of the unreturned passengers has not been confirmed. They were educated, upper-class people; Song Yeong-in of the National Intelligence Service once commented that they were probably retained by North Korea specifically for their propaganda value. In 1992, Oh Kil-nam claimed that the two flight attendants as well as Hwang and Gim were employed making propaganda broadcasts to the South; he also said he heard from his daughter that the captain and first officer were working for the Korean People's Air Force. The mother of one of the flight attendants, Seong Gyeong-hui, was allowed to visit the North to see her daughter as part of the family reunions agreed to in the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration; during their meeting, she claimed that she and the other flight attendant Jeong Gyeong-suk remained friends and were living in the same town.
Hwang In-cheol, the son of Hwang Won, one of the unreturned victims, would go on to set up the Korean Air Flight YS-11 Families Committee in 2008 to press the South Korean government to further investigate the issue. In media comments 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, as compared to the relative lack of coverage of the fate of his father, whom he has not seen in 40 years. 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. In February 2012, he filed a lawsuit against the North Korean spy who kidnapped his father.
The tail number of the aircraft, HL5208, was retired as a result of the incident.
North Korea has since been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States of America following the Rangoon bombing, the bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 over the Andaman Sea, and the Lod Airport massacre in Israel. They were removed in 2008, but reclassified again in 2017 following the murders of Kim Jong-nam and Otto Warmbier, as well as their response to the Sharyat missile strike in Syria.
List of unreturned passengers and crew
- Yu Byeong-ha (유병하, 38) of Seoul, captain
- Choe Seok-man (최석만, 37) of Seoul, first officer
- Jeong Gyeong-suk (정경숙, 24) of Seoul, flight attendant
- Seong Gyeong-hui (성경희, 23) of Seoul, flight attendant
- Yi Dong-gi (이동기, 49) of Miryang, manager of a printing company
- Hwang Won (황원, 32) of Gangneung, programme director at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC)
- Gim Bongju (김봉주, 27) of Gangneung, cameraman at MBC
- Chae Heon-deok (채헌덕, 37) of Gangneung, doctor
- Im Cheol-su (임철수, 49) of Yanggu, office worker
- Jang Ki-yeong (장기영, 40) of Uijeongbu, food industry businessman
- Choe Jeong-ung (최정웅, 28) of Wonju, Hankook Slate Company employee
Names are in Revised Romanization of Korean.
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