North Korean Defector Evaded Hail of Bullets to Reach Safety in 'Movie-Like' Escape

A North Korean soldier keeps watch toward the south through a binocular telescope as a South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, August 26. Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

The North Korean army took aim at one of their men who was caught crossing the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing the Korean peninsula and fired 40 times.

Four officials chased their defecting comrade, armed with their pistols and AK-47 rifles, according to CCTV footage of the scene.

"Our assessment is that three North Korean soldiers and another from the North's military outpost chased him as he fled, firing shots," South Korean Army General Suh Wook, chief director of operations at the country's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday briefing lawmakers, quoted in the Korea Herald.

According to Defense Minister Song Young-moo, this would be the first time the North fired shots into the South Korean side of the JSA, but the South Korean military officials said a probe was needed to investigate whether a bullet mark on the southern side was the result of the North Korean chase, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

If North Korea fired shots inside the South Korean side, they would have violated one of the terms of the armistice signed in 1953 to end the Korean War. The two countries technically remain at war with one another as no peace treaty followed the armistice.

The North Korean defector was unarmed and wearing a Korean People's Army uniform blooded from at least five gunshot wounds to his shoulder, elbow and abdomen. He was rescued by two South Korean soldiers and one American soldier, who found him using heat detention equipment, crawled toward him and dragged him to safety.

He was airlifted to the Ajou University Medical Center in the Yeongtong-gu province south of Seoul where doctor Lee Cook-jong told the local press: "(We) will have to ride out the crucial moments (in his recovery) over the next 10 days."

Contrary to earlier reports, the man has yet to regain consciousness and his conditions remain severe. "Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own but his life can be saved," Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday, briefing lawmakers, as quoted by Reuters.

The dynamic of the defection is becoming clearer, with South Korean lawmakers reportedly impressed by an escape that seemed "right out of a movie."

A South Korean soldier talks with a surgeon at a hospital where a North Korean soldier who defected to the South after being shot and wounded by the North Korean military is hospitalized, in Suwon, South Korea, November 13. Hong Ki-won/Yonhap/via Reuters

The man, whose name, provenience and intentions are yet to be established or publicly disclosed, although he is presumed to be a soldier, drove a jeep through the so-called border "peace village" of Panmunjom. He was speeding toward a guard post when he hit a gutter and one of the the wheels came loose.

According to the South Korean military, he then exited the vehicle and ran toward the border crossing under a hail of bullets, before collapsing 150 yards after the border line, were he was rescued.

On average, more than 1,000 North Koreans have fled to the South every year since 1998, often paying smugglers to take them through a perilous journey through China. The man is the third person to defect through the DMZ since the end of the Cold War and the first in a decade, with two previous episodes occurring in 1998 and 2007.