Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking

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Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking
Date11 December 1969
SiteSouth Korea
Flight originGangneung Airbase
DestinationGimpo International Airport
Survivors51 (all)

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).[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 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 of the National Intelligence Service once commented that they were probably retained by North Korea specifically for their propaganda value.[12] 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.[12] 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.[5][12]

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.[13] 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.[14][15]

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

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 murder of Kim Jong-nam, the suspected murder of Otto Warmbier, their response to the Sharyat missile strike in Syria, and the missile launch over Japan, as well as their support towards Islamic terrorist groups.[17][18]

List of unreturned passengers and crew

All four crew, as well as seven passengers, were not returned to the South.[19] The ages listed are those as of the time of the hijacking.[20]

  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

Names are in Revised Romanization of Korean.


  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
  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, retrieved 2010-07-07
  13. ^ Kim, Tae-Hong (2009-08-07), "141 Days of Hell, What about 40 Years?", The Daily NK, retrieved 2010-07-06
  14. ^ "S. Korean files suit against alleged NK spy over his abducted father". The Korea Times. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  15. ^ "S. Korean files suit against alleged N. Korean spy over his abducted father". Yonhap News. 14 February 2012. Retrieved 17 February 2016.
  16. ^ Kim, Rahn (2009-09-10), "Planes Have Retired Numbers", The Korea Times, retrieved 2010-07-06
  17. ^ North Korea missiles: US warships deployed to Korean peninsula (BBC News)
  18. ^ Fears North Korea crisis could increase risk of larger attacks from ISIS and other terror groups (Mirror.co.uk)
  19. ^ "41년 만에 유엔서 재조명되는 북한의 국제범죄", Dongrip Shinmun, 2010-06-18, retrieved 2010-07-07
  20. ^ "KAL납북사건: 강릉→서울 비행중 고정간첩이 납치". Chosun Ilbo. 27 February 2002. Retrieved 22 January 2016.