Oh, the North Korean soldier whose daring escape was caught on video
As the 24-year-old in the Korean demilitarized zone ran from his vehicle, his fellow soldiers came in pursuit, firing more than 40 rounds at him. He was hit at least five times — but clung to life as he kept crawling south.
He was found bleeding in a pile of leaves by South Korean soldiers and brought to doctors.
The brazen escape of a North Korean soldier has provided another glimpse at life inside Kim Jong Un’s despotic regime, under which people are cut off from the outside world.
It’s not clear why the North Korean soldier, identified only by his surname, Oh, escaped Nov. 13.
The soldier’s extraordinary defection through the Joint Security Area, the only portion of the DMZ where North and South Korean soldiers stand face-to-face, has military intelligence officers eager to speak with him. But a doctor at the hospital south of Seoul where Oh is being treated said the soldier shows signs of depression and post-traumatic stress and won’t be ready to answer questions for about a month.
This is what we know about Oh, from how he escaped to what his doctors have learned about him.
How the soldier defected
Closed-circuit television footage released by the U.S. military shows Oh driving a jeeplike vehicle southward before it got stuck in a ditch yards away from the Military Demarcation Line that has formed the border between North Korea and South Korea since the end of the Korean War.
The soldier jumped out of the vehicle and began running, and four North Korean border guards began firing at him with pistols and AK-47-style assault rifles.
The video then shows Oh lying in a pile of leaves, south of the line, against the side of a building. Three South Korean soldiers crawled out and dragged him to safety, and a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter transported him to Ajou University Hospital, about 50 miles away.
North Korea appears to have replaced its security guards since Oh’s escape, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an intelligence source in South Korea. Marc Knapper, the acting U.S. ambassador to South Korea, tweeted Wednesday that North Koreans planted two trees and dug a trench in the spot where the soldier crossed.
— Marc Knapper (@MarcKnapper) November 23, 2017
A shooting hadn’t occurred in the Joint Security Area since 1984, when North Korean and U.N. Command soldiers shot at each other during a Soviet citizen’s sprint to the southern side, according to the Associated Press. North Korean soldiers defected at the site in 1998 and in 2007, but no gunfire was exchanged between the two sides in those instances, according to South Korea’s military.
In the 1984 incident, the shootings happened after North Korean soldiers crossed the border and began firing, the AP reported. In the case of Oh, it’s unclear whether North Korea continued to fire at him after he made it to the southern side of the Joint Security Area.
During a ceremony at Camp Bonifas on Thursday, three U.S. soldiers and three South Korean soldiers were recognized by senior military leaders for rescuing Oh.
As of Tuesday, North Korea’s official media had not reported the soldier’s defection. About 30,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. North Korean officials in the past have accused South Korea of kidnapping or encouraging people to leave.
The parasites in his stomach
Oh had no personal information when he arrived at the hospital, according to Reuters. His condition was severe: While on the flight, U.S. Army flight medics had to insert a large needle into his chest to help reinflate a collapsed lung and keep Oh alive.
After he had lost a large volume of blood, Oh’s blood pressure was so low when he arrived at the hospital that doctors didn’t have time to check his blood type. They quickly pumped about 40 units of type-O blood into him — about three to four times the amount of blood contained in the human body. He spent his first days in South Korea unconscious. A breathing machine kept him alive.
“He told me that he is so thankful for South Koreans for saving his life and giving him that much blood,” Oh’s surgeon, Lee Cook-jong, told Reuters.
He has had three surgeries, including an attempt to repair his damaged internal organs and stop the contamination caused by 10-inch-long parasitic worms found in his intestines.
The worms indicated the severity of the humanitarian and health crisis sweeping North Korea as it pours its resources into becoming a nuclear power. With the country spending about 22 percent of its gross domestic product on the military, other public spending necessities have taken a hit. As a Newsweek headline bluntly put it: “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is starving his people to pay for nuclear weapons.”