News / Asia

Hopes Submerged in Search for US Pilot in North Korea

A highly decorated American pilot from the Korean War, who has returned to North Korea, has been told severe flooding makes it impossible to reach the area where his wingman crash-landed in 1950 and died.

North Korean military officials have told 88-year-old Thomas Hudner and accompanying Americans they will not be able to travel to the Chosin Reservoir this week because of flooding.

The officials say their own advance team which traveled to the area has been isolated because of rising water levels there.
 
Hudner has come to North Korea to try to find and retrieve the body of U.S. Navy pilot Jesse Brown. Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for trying to rescue Brown who crash landed his plane after being apparently hit by ground fire from Chinese forces during a December 1950 battle. Hudner also crash-landed his plane in a futile attempt to free Brown from his crumpled cockpit.
 
North Korean army officers, from left to right, Col. Kim Meong Hwan, Sr. Col. Pak Gi Yong and Maj. Moon Geong Joon, during a meeting with Thomas Hudner in Pyongyang, July 23, 2013. (Steve Herman/VOA)North Korean army officers, from left to right, Col. Kim Meong Hwan, Sr. Col. Pak Gi Yong and Maj. Moon Geong Joon, during a meeting with Thomas Hudner in Pyongyang, July 23, 2013. (Steve Herman/VOA)
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North Korean army officers, from left to right, Col. Kim Meong Hwan, Sr. Col. Pak Gi Yong and Maj. Moon Geong Joon, during a meeting with Thomas Hudner in Pyongyang, July 23, 2013. (Steve Herman/VOA)
North Korean army officers, from left to right, Col. Kim Meong Hwan, Sr. Col. Pak Gi Yong and Maj. Moon Geong Joon, during a meeting with Thomas Hudner in Pyongyang, July 23, 2013. (Steve Herman/VOA)
During a 90-minute meeting in Pyongyang, a senior colonel told Hudner that once the weather and ground conditions improve, the military will make every effort to resolve this humanitarian issue.

Hudner thanked the army officer, saying such action would mean a lot.

“I feel that although we didn't get final resolution on this, this meeting has given us a lot of optimism. And we know that something is being done now and that will be passed on to the American people," Hudner said.

The cololnel also told Hudner that  North Korea “in the future” intends to resume joint efforts with the U.S. Defense Department to recover remains of American service personnel from the three-year Korean War.

Hudner replied he will inform U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about this.

Hudner is accompanied by six other American civilians - including an 83-year-old ex-Marine who won the Silver Star for fighting off Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir.

They have been able to see some of the flooding damage on the highway northwest of Pyongyang. Officials say the road back to the capital is now impassible.

The state-run news agency (KCNA) says rising waters in several provinces have damaged or submerged more than 6,000 houses leaving 23,000 people homeless.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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