Freed Koreans Retell Hijacking

February 16, 1970: Some of the passengers on the plane tore up their identification cards and threw them in the toilet. Others stayed seated, pale and breathless. All of them could see the North Korea guards pointing rifles at the plane.

Freed Koreans

Outside on the airfield, the hijacker, wearing a grey coat and a white flu mask, was met by North Korean army officers and shortly sped away in a black sedan. It was a biting cold -4 degrees below zero.

The date was Dec. 11, 1969. The plane was a South Korea Airlines YS-11 turboprop hijacked at gunpoint on a flight from Kangnung to Seoul and forced to fly to North Korea, landing at Yompo airfield Hamhung, 170 miles northeast of Seoul.

Accounts of how the hijacking took place were given by 39 of the passengers of the plane Sunday, one day after their return to freedom from 65 days of detention in Communist North Korea. North Korea still held the two pilots, the two stewardesses, and eight passengers.

The South Korean Central Intelligence Agency and national police headquarters said in a joint statement after questioning the 39 freed passengers that the hijacking was the work of one passenger, a North Korean agent names Cho Chang-hee.

Their statement refuted the North Korean allegation that the hijacking was carried out by the pilots to protest the South Korean government of Park Chung-hee and United States policy.

The passengers, who were released at the truth village of Panmunjom Saturday, said Cho rose from his seat about 10 minutes after the plan took off from Kangnung, 105 miles east of Seoul, and slipped into the pilots’ cabin. “He was sitting in front of me on the first seat from the front,” said Kim Jin-kyu, 32, a government official who was among the passengers. “Suddenly, he rose and went into the pilots’ cabin.”

Kim said he felt uneasy at seeing this and then became certain the plane was being hijacked when it flew over the sea so long and was joined by three North Korean fighters flying alongside as if in a convoy.

North Korean guards boarded the plane after it landed and ordered the passengers to pull the curtains over the windows. But Choi Kee, 40, of Chumunjin, near Kangnung, partly opened the curtain and saw the hijacker being met by North Korean army officers and driven away.

Before the passengers were taken off the plane, they were ordered to cover their eyes with their handkerchiefs. “The two pilots, Yu Byung-ha and Choi Suk-man, were given the same treatment,” Choi said.

Other passengers said the North Koreans tried to brainwash them and gave four hours of indoctrination every day. “In a word, it was a nightmare,” said Chu Un-sup, 45, of Kangnung.

The joint South Korean CIA and police announcement said the North Koreans severely tortured some of the passengers. It said one Son Ho-gil, 30, of Kangnung, had become mentally deranged and lost his ability to speak. Article archived here.

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