DMZ Flashpoints: The 1983 Hijacking of CAAC Flight 296 to Camp Page

Introduction

There has been some strange incidents over the years involving the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but one of the weirdest was when a hijacked Chinese airliner crossed over the DMZ on May 5, 1983 and landed at the US Army base Camp Page.  This was the first successful hijacking of a Chinese plane that ultimately ended up leading to the thawing of relations between South Korea and China.


Example of a CAAC Trident Jet that was hijacked. 

The Hijacking

The hijacked plane was a British made Trident jet that was part of China’s state owned airline called the Civilian Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).  The plane CAAC Flight 296 was making a routine domestic flight between Shenyang in northeast China and Shanghai with 96 passengers and 9 crew members on board when it was seized by 6 hijackers.  The hijackers were composed of five men and one woman who were armed with pistols and led by a man named An Weijian.  They used their weapons to blast open the door to the cockpit where during a skirmish for control of the plane a total of eight shots were fired wounding two crew members in the legs.  After successfully taking control of the aircraft the Chinese hijackers demanded to be flown to Taiwan where they hoped to defect.

Possibly fearing retribution from the Chinese government if he complied with the hijackers demands, the pilot did not fly the plane towards Taiwan, the pilot instead flew the plane towards Pyongyang.  1983 was during the Cold War when tensions were high and the pilot deciding to fly the airliner into North Korean airspace was a risky move.  He had no way of knowing how the North Koreans would react to an unannounced aircraft suddenly flying over their country.

The North Koreans initially reacted by monitoring the aircraft by radar.  However, since they were informed that it was a Chinese civilian airliner they took a wait and see approach with the aircraft.  The North Korea ground controllers may have even been working in concert with the pilot to dupe the hijackers since the North Korean Air Force did not dispatch any planes to intercept the airliner.  As the airliner approached Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport one of the hijackers noticed a big picture of North Korea’s leader, Kim Il-sung which tipped them off that they were being fooled by the pilot.  The hijackers forced the plane to divert the landing and instead head to South Korea.

After the aborted landing this is when the people on the airliner got very lucky.  It is likely that the North Korean government would want to stop this airliner from crossing the DMZ and entering South Korea.  However, the North Korean air defense authorities could not get a hold of the Kim Il-sung to authorize the shoot down of the aircraft.

Then, one of the hijackers detected something amiss when he saw a North Korean sign _ a big portrait of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the North and its then leader _ as the plane was approaching Pyongyang airport. The hijackers threatened the pilot at gunpoint, forcing him to abort the landing and head to the South. It landed at U.S. Camp Page in Chunchun, in the South’s Gangwon Province. Now, it took about 20 minutes for the the British-made HS121Trident aircraft to fly from Pyongyang to Chunchon with the North Korean air defense all but paralyzed.

The North Korean air defense commander was reprimanded for his failure to respond according to the manual for such an emergency. But he was spared from a firing squad because he tried without success to locate Kim Il-sung to gain his clearance to go after the aircraft as the regulations stipulated. Kim was out of touch and nobody except for him could make a decision about such a situation.  [Korea Times]

Due to the command paralyzation in North Korea, the Chinese airliner was able to safely cross the DMZ where it landed at the US military base of Camp Page outside the city of Chuncheon:

Hijackers Give Themselves Up at Camp Page

After the plane crossed over the DMZ it was intercepted by ROK Air Force fighter jets.  The pilot moved his wing left to right which is a signal of defection.  The ROK fighters escorted the plane towards the military airfield at Camp Page.  Once the plane landed at Camp Page negotiations with ROK authorities began with the hijackers to release the crew and passengers.  The hijackers eventually agreed to release the hostages where the two wounded crewmen were immediately taken to a hospital in Seoul for medical attention.  The remaining crew and passengers were put up at a luxury hotel in eastern Seoul.  Shortly after releasing the hostages the hijackers were taken into custody by ROK authorities without incident after requesting political asylum in Taiwan.  The Taiwanese government responded by saying they welcome “anyone aboard who desires to come to our home country.”

After taking the ROK authorities took the hijackers into custody, the Chinese government demanded the plane, passengers, and hijackers all be returned to China.  This is where things were tricky because at the time time South Korea and China did not have official diplomatic relations due to its decades long animosity of Chinese support to North Korea during the Korean War.  South Korea responded to the Chinese demands by saying they would respect the “spirit” of the 1970 Convention of the Hague which outlawed skyjackings without saying what they would do with the six hijackers.

Negotiations

Two days after the hijacking a 33 person Chinese delegation arrived in Seoul led by the CAAC Director Shen Tu. Through negotiations the Chinese and the ROK agreed to the return of the plane, its crew, and all Chinese passengers back to China.  The hijackers however would be subject to Korean law.  At the time it was a good compromise to resolve the dispute.  While negotiations were going on the passengers were warmly received by the Koreans.  During their time in South Korea the Chinese passengers were put on a sightseeing tour, received lavish meals, gifts, and entertainment.  The overall bill came up to over $28,000.  The three Japanese passengers on the plane however did not get to enjoy the lavish treatment, there were immediately returned to Japan the day after the hijacking.

Five days after the incident on May 10, 1983 all the passengers and crew were returned to South Korea and two weeks after the incident the Trident plane was returned as well:

A Chinese passenger plane hijacked to South Korea two weeks ago left for home Wednesday, ending an incident that led to the first official contact between China and South Korea.

The British-made Trident jetliner of China’s state airline, CAAC, left Seoul’s Kimpo International Airport at 10 a.m. with 13 people aboard.

Among the passengers was a radio operator who was one of two crew members wounded May 5 when five men and a woman armed with two pistols hijacked the plane to South Korea in the first hijacking of a jetliner out of China.

The plane’s 96 passengers and eight other crew members returned home May 10.  [UPI]

The crew and passengers when they arrived in China were greeted with the same type of welcome they received in South Korea.  Approximately two hundred weeping well wishers were present for their arrival and presented them with flowers.  They then met with politicians and then attended a reception to welcome them back to China.

Punishment

The return of the plane and passengers officially ended the dispute between the ROK and China, however the South Koreans still needed to prosecute the six hijackers they held in custody.  The hijackers received incredibly light sentences by receiving less than a year in jail before being resettled in Taiwan to a heroes welcome:

In 1983, six Chinese hijacked a plane to South Korea. They were imprisoned for less than a year and resettled in Taiwan, where they received heroes’ welcomes.  [Deseret News]

The punishment for the hijackers is probably what bothers me the most about this story.  They hijacked a plane, put the lives of the 96 passengers at risk, and shot two crew members, but their punishment was receiving less than a year in jail.  The political situation should have been put aside at the time and these hijackers should have been harshly dealt with to prevent future hijackings.

Conclusion

The aftermath of the CAAC Flight 296 hijacking did have some important ramifications.  First of all is that the hijacking showed how initiative within the North Korean military is held back because of the centralized control of the regime.  This incident also proved how North Korea did not have an adequate system in place to contact the top leadership in case of an emergency.  I would not be surprised if initiative in the North Korean military even today is still stifled because of the extreme controls the Kim regime needs to keep in place to control the country.  However, with the modern technology available today it is likely that the North Koreans have quicker access to its top leadership to make decisions if needed.

This hijacking also became a turning point for ROK and Chinese relations.  After the hijacking the two countries who had long been suspicious of each other, began a series of exchanges in sports, industry, and international conference attendance.  These positives events eventually led to South Korea severing relations with Taiwan in 1992 and officially establishing diplomatic ties with China on August 24, 1992.  Since then China has gone on to become South Korea’s #1 trade partner.  It is interesting to think that modern Chinese relations with South Korea began with a botched hijacking.

US Army Officer Gets Emotional About His Family’s Safety in South Korea

The below video is from an interview that CNN’s Brooke Baldwin did with a US Army Lieutenant Colonel who get emotional talking about his family’s safety in South Korea:

I can understand why this officer got emotional talking about his family’s safety, but this is probably not the best image for the US Army to put forward.  It seems to me that if he is so fearful for his family’s safety he should of did an unaccompanied tour to Korea.

President Trump Enjoys “Taco Tuesday” with Troops At Camp Humphreys

This had to have been a pretty neat experience for the soldiers that attended this lunch with President Trump:

U.S. troops who had lunch with President Donald Trump on Tuesday at a military base in South Korea say he told them there was no place he’d rather be.

Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in joined 108 hand-picked servicemembers, including 20 South Koreans, for Taco Tuesday at a Camp Humphreys dining facility.

Pvt. Merion Holmes, 21, of Georgetown, S.C., said he was honored to see the president in person and found Trump’s words motivating.

“He said he’d rather eat with the troops than at a fancy restaurant,” Holmes told Stars and Stripes after the president’s 20-minute appearance. “It made me feel like he cared.”

Trump flew to Humphreys in a helicopter shortly after landing at Osan Air Base on Tuesday to begin his visit to South Korea, the second leg of his first official visit to Asia.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link, but of significance is that ROK President Moon Jae-in made a surprise visit to Camp Humphreys as well to have lunch with President Trump.  This is reportedly the first time a ROK President has greeted a visiting foreign leader outside of Cheongwadae.

President Trump to Make Visit to Camp Humphreys During Trip to South Korea

Via a reader tip comes this news that President Trump’s first stop in South Korea will be to Camp Humphreys:

Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek.

U.S. President Donald Trump will visit Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as the first destination during his visit to South Korea from Nov. 7 to 8, officials said Tuesday.

It will be the first visit of a U.S. president to the headquarters of the Eighth U.S. Army which relocated there in July.

The Eighth Army moved to the post after more than 60 years at Yongsan, central Seoul, as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s relocation project for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) following more than a decade of planning since 2003.

Camp Humphreys is the largest U.S. Army Garrison overseas. It occupies 14.68 square kilometers of land ― three times the size of the Yongsan garrison ― with 513 buildings including schools, shops and banks as well as other facilities such as gyms, theaters and a water park for USFK personnel and their families.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link, but I wonder if 8th Army senior leaders will mention all the anti-US protestsfraud, corruption, delays, and the fact units are moving into incomplete buildings that occurred to get this expansion project complete?  No probably not, but it would be great to see President Trump’s reaction to if he saw pictures like this from a past protest to stop the expansion project:

Concerns Mount that Rodriguez Range Will Be the Next US-ROK “Hot Potato” Issue

I do find it interesting that no one ever seems to protest ROK military training areas:

Rodriguez Range

The contentious Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Pocheon, Gyeonggi, a tactical training area for the American army near the border with North Korea, was brought up in a recent high-level military conference between Seoul and Washington as nearby residents have complained of noise and safety concerns.

U.S. military officers worry that the complex, a 3,390-acre training zone managed by the 8th U.S. Army, could become the next “hot potato” after the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield in Seongju County, North Gyeongsang, a senior South Korean government official told JoongAng Ilbo Sunday on the condition of anonymity.

The field, which is the U.S. military’s largest shooting complex in Asia, was among the main agenda items discussed at the annual Military Committee Meeting between Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his U.S. counterpart, Joseph Dunford, last Friday.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read the rest at the link, but Rodriguez Range could close tomorrow and the THAAD battery could redeploy back to the United States and the leftists will still find “hot potato” issues to bash USFK with.  Remember these are the same people who created a hot potato issue by claiming a USFK mortician polluted the Han River and exposed everyone in Seoul to cancer.  They even convinced most people in Korea that eating US-beef would kill them.

The bottom line is that the Korean left will never be happy until USFK is gone.  That is there ultimate goal with sensationalizing every “hot potato” issue.

US & ROK Defense Chiefs Fail to Reach OPCON Transfer Agreement

Like I have said before I will believe it when I see the OPCON transfer happen:

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo, right, shakes hands with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis before a joint press conference in Seoul Saturday. [YONHAP]

The Moon Jae-in administration’s ambition to regain wartime operational control from the United States has hit a snag, as the latest security consultation by U.S. and Korean defense chiefs failed to approve a restructuring plan for the combined forces.

Defense Minister Song Young-moo and U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis attended an annual Security Consultative Meeting on Saturday in Seoul, accompanied by top military officials. North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and other key issues concerning the Korea-U.S. alliance, were discussed.

Following the discussion, the 49th of its kind, a joint communique was issued. Song and Mattis also addressed reporters in a press conference.

According to the joint communique, Song and Mattis pledged to work together to implement an agreement made in June by Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump to “enable the expeditious conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control.”

But conspicuously missing from the communique was the much-anticipated approval of a plan for a new Combined Forces Command to oversee Korean and U.S. troops on the peninsula after the transfer. Song and Mattis were updated on the draft organization of the future Combined Forced Command and decided to continue to refine the draft through combined exercises and certifications, it said.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of National Defense told the National Assembly that the structure of a future combined forces would be discussed and approved at the Song-Mattis meeting. According to the draft, a Korean general would act as chief commander of the combined troops and an American general was to serve as deputy commander.  [Joong Ang Ilbo]

You can read more at the link, but the talk of an OPCON transfer has been going on for many years due to Korean governmental delay games.  You can read more about the OPCON transfer at the below link:

“Early” Transfer of OPCON of Military Forces to Korea Will Not Happen Until Early 2020’s

The 2nd Infantry Division in Korea Celebrates Its 100-Year Anniversary

From the Stars & Stripes:

The 2nd Infantry Division looked to the future and the past Thursday as it celebrated its centennial with a mass re-enlistment ceremony for 100 soldiers and a time capsule.

Against the background of a hill covered with autumn foliage, 2nd ID commander Maj. Gen. Scott McKean praised the soldiers for renewing their service while stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North.

Tensions have been rising in recent months as the communist state increases the pace of its banned nuclear weapons program.

“Volunteering to continue your service in defense of our great nation, and to do it in the face of the enemy, on freedom’s frontier, that Warriors, is a sign of commitment and courage,” he said.

The ceremony on a field on Camp Casey, an Army base near the heavily fortified border that divides the peninsula, marked the start of a day of celebration as the Warrior Division celebrated its 100th birthday. [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

USFK Says THAAD Battery Deployment Now Fully Complete

The deployment of THAAD to South Korea which the ROK government has called temporary has now been fully completed according to USFK:

This file photo, taken Sept. 12, 2017, shows a launcher of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system being positioned at a U.S. military base in Seongju, 300 kilometers south of Seoul. The U.S. Army, which transported four additional THAAD launchers to the base Sept. 7, has installed them there and is ready to operate them, along with two of the six THAAD launchers previously installed.

The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Sunday it has officially set up the unit charged with operating the advanced missile defense system deployed in the country.

A ceremony was held in the southeastern county of Seongju on Thursday to transfer the Delta Battery of the 11th Air Defense Artillery (ADA) Brigade in Fort Bliss, Texas, to the 35th ADA Brigade in South Korea, official sources said.

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, which has missile launchers, command and control facilities and a powerful radar, was first deployed in April as part of the Global Response Force amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. At the time there were two interceptor launchers stationed in the rural county. Four more were added last month.

In September, South Korea announced that the deployment of a THAAD battery in the county had been completed in a “tentative” step to counter threats from North Korea. The battery has been operational, but the military unit and manpower operating it has not fully been in place.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.