|▲ Hwang Won, In Cheol's father, aged 32|
Around 6 P.M. (local time) on the 5th, a private Boeing plane arrived at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, just outside Los Angeles. Inside were two reporters, newly pardoned after being detained for 141 days in North Korea, and a former president of the United States.
When they stepped off the plane, family members awaiting their arrival let out shouts of joy. As soon as Euna Lee descended the steps of the plane, her daughter Hana ran to her. Her husband Michael Saldate soon joined them, and the three embraced each other tearfully. Laura Ling was also crying as she was reunited with her husband.
Hwang In Cheol is a representative of the Korean Air (KAL) Flight YS-11 Families Committee, an organization which continues to campaign for the safe return of 11 passengers and crew of a domestic Korean Air flight from Gangreung to Seoul which was hijacked in 1969 and diverted to Pyongyang. Naturally, he watched the scenes in California with tears in his eyes.
While watching the reunion on TV, he received a call from The Daily NK. "While I want to congratulate the reporters on being reunited with their families,” he said, “I cannot help but also feel a sense of alienation and deep regret."
He went on, "My father was on that plane. At the time, he was a producer at MBC. He had been a reporter, but while these American reporters have been repatriated, my father has been held there for 40 years. I really do not know what to say."
As the younger Hwang said, he is the son of former MBC producer Hwang Won, one of the 11 victims who were not returned after the hijacking by North Korean agent Cho Chang Hee on February 11, 1969. Later, Hwang decided to gather the family members of those held hostage in North Korea and formed the ‘Korean Air Flight YS-11 Families Committee," taking the chair of the organization himself.
He also said, “When we see the American journalists’ meeting their families on TV, our hearts break once more; we are people whose close relations are still in North Korea, far beyond Kim Jong Il’s attention, regardless of the slogan, “Uriminzokkiri.”
Hearing that former U.S. President Bill Clinton urged the release of the South Korea detainees as well as the two Americans, Hwang noted, "This is something that the South Korean government should do. I hope that negotiations to repatriate the KAL abductees will follow the recent release of the reporters."
Regardless, he lamented the lukewarm attitude of successive South Korean administrations, "For the last ten years, there has been no policy regarding repatriations. From the beginning, this hijacking should have been resolved as an abductees’ issue or from the perspective of protecting fellow countrymen, but this never happened. I wonder if the issue has to do with being dragged around by the North."
He stated, "Before pursuing the repatriation of the KAL abductees, whether or not they are even alive should be confirmed. To us (the family members), repatriation is a surreal goal."
The American reporters stated that the mere 141 days during which they were detained were the worst days of their lives, yet in this horrid place there are South Korean abductees who have been detained for far, far longer.
And the sad reality is that a young boy called In Cheol, who just wanted to see his father, is now a man in his 40s.