Ahn Young-joon / AP
A man escaped North Korea last week by swimming several kilometers before going ashore in the south, where he was able to dodge border guards for more than six hours, according to a report released Tuesday.
The February 16 incident marks a second embarrassing violation of the heavily fortified demilitarized zone in recent months after another North Korean man claimed to be a former gymnast jumped over a fence in the DMZ and was left undetected by South Korean guards for 14 hours in November.
On Tuesday, military officials in Seoul reported the recent crossing and confirmed that the unidentified man was videotaped ten times before he was finally noticed and arrested by the guards.
The man, wearing a wet suit and flippers, swam in at night The Baltic Sea – also known as the Sea of Japan – comes ashore about 3.2 kilometers within South Korean territory at 1:05 a.m., according to the report released by the joint chiefs of staff of the South Yonhap News Agency.
Then he hid his suit and fins and went unnoticed by guards at a border control post into a drainage pipe that ran under barbed wire on the beach, the report said.
“He’d probably been swimming for about six hours, wearing a padded jacket in a wet suit and fins. His clothes seemed to have kept him warm and allowed him to stay afloat,” an unnamed JCS officer told Yonhap. “The tidal current at that time also helped him come south.”
The report said that the man’s movements were tracked five times by surveillance cameras between 1:05 a.m. and 1:38 a.m., and that his presence triggered the alarm twice without the guards noticing. Cameras along security fences also caught him several times, the report says.
A soldier in charge of coastal surveillance was adjusting a computerized security system when one of the alarms went off. Another unnamed JCS official was quoted by Yonhap. He believed it was a mistake and ignored the alarm. Officials said the second alert was missed because another soldier was distracted by a work-related phone call.
It wasn’t until around 4 a.m. after the man had moved south about 3 miles along a road that he was finally discovered by a security guard who was monitoring a surveillance camera. A three-hour manhunt followed before he was finally captured at 7:27 a.m. in a restricted area in the eastern border town of Goseong, about 15 kilometers within South Korea, the report said, Yonhap said.
“The service members responsible for the duty to watch have not followed the proper procedures and did not discover the unidentified man,” the JCS official told the news agency.
A check of the drainage lines around the DMZ was ordered last summer after a North Korean defector returned north via one at the western end of the border, Yonhap said.
“During the course of the investigation, we found three drainage tunnels that were not on our list,” said the JCS official.