N: Korean airline hijack – 11 people still missing after 4 decades

They didn’t come home

December 2019 marked 50 years since a Korean Air Lines (KAL) flight on a short internal hop in South Korea was hijacked and flown to North Korea.

The YS-11 was flying from Gangneung to Gimpo International Airport in Seoul on 11 December 1969.

There were 46 passengers and four crew on board.

Two months after the hijacking, 39 passengers were returned to South Korea. The crew and seven other passengers are still somewhere in North Korea. They may or may not still be alive.

Negotiations in January 1970 led to North Korea agreeing to return the hijacked passengers in mid-February.

Relatives travelled to the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, in the DMZ border zone. Many had flowers and gifts as they waited for their relatives.

But only 39 people came across the border. It remains unknown today what happened to most of the 11 who didn’t return to South Korea.

South Korea says government agents from the North hijacked the plane. North Korea’s official news agency said soon after the hijacking that the airliner was flown into North Korea by its two pilots who wanted to defect. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) identified the two pilots as Yu Byong Ha and Choe Sok Man.

The now-accepted version is that a North Korean agent, later identified as Cho Chang-hui, entered the cockpit and forced the pilots to fly into North Korean airspace. They were met by North Korean fighter jets and forced to land at Sondok Airfield near Wonsan.

Statements provided by released passengers refuted North Korea’s claims that the hijacking was led by the pilots; instead, they identified a passenger as the hijacker. A man on the plane said he snuck a look out the window of the aircraft and saw the hijacker being driven away in a black car.

The passengers included Yi Dong-gi, the manager of a printing company; Chae Heon-deok, a doctor; and two journalists for Munhwa Broadcasting Corp (MBC).

A mother of one of the flight attendants being held was allowed to visit her daughter in 2000 but the daughter remained in North Korea.

Most of those not released were educated, upper-class people and are thought to have been kept captive for propaganda purposes.

In 1992, it was claimed that two flight attendants and two other passengers were employed making propaganda broadcasts to the South. There were also reports that the captain and first officer were working for the Korean People’s Air Force.

The secretive successive North Korean regimes have not been forthcoming with information about those still held or the plane. It is not known for certain whether any of those detained are still alive.

In 2012, families of those still being held sought permission to visit their families.

North Korea responded that the kidnapped passengers on the KAL flight did not fall under the classification of enforced disappearances and dismissed the request for confirmation of the passengers’ status as a political scheme by hostile forces.

South Korea says the North has been responsible for many kidnappings. Some reports say the North has abducted 3,835 South Korean citizens, mostly fishermen, since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean Peninsula war. Up to 500 of those are still there.

North Korea has consistently claimed that there were no South Korean abductees in North Korea and that south Koreans in their country have defected. About 85,000 South Koreans were captured during the war and not repatriated.

The US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says Pyongyang has kidnapped more than 80,000 citizens of 12 nations, including South Korea.

As for the KAL passengers and crew, relatives are still calling on the United Nations to intervene of their behalf, with no success to date.


There are many conspiracy theories about the disappearance in March 2014 of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 after it left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

One of the latest bizarrely links the disappearance to the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un.

London’s Express newspaper reported in April 2017:

“The North Korean conspiracy theory centres on rumours that Kim Jong-un, the dictator of the hardline regime, ordered the hijacking of the flight because he wanted it for experimentation.

Malaysia is now in a diplomatic row with North Korea, after secret agents from the secretive regime were suspected of using a chemical nerve-agent to assassinate Kim’s own half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur airport, because it was feared he would keep speaking out about horrors inside the secretive country.

A discussion about the theory on social media site Reddit suggested MH370 had enough fuel to be flown to North Korea.

It also pointed to the fact in 1969, North Korea was held responsible for hijacking the South Korean plane Korean Air Lines YS-11.

An aviation worker, who was not named, but spoke to eTurboNews (eTN) explained why the dictator wanted a Boeing 777.

He said he wanted a really, really huge plane for research into technology advancements”.


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