North Korean defector shot 5 times in epic escape says it’s a ‘miracle’ he’s alive

North Korean soldier keeps watch on the banks of the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea

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North Korean soldier keeps watch on the banks of the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Korea
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REUTERS/Aly Song

  • Former North Korean soldier Oh Chong Song, who made headlines with his daring defection in November 2017, has shared his story in his first public television interview with a US broadcaster.
  • He told NBC Nightly News that it is a “miracle” he is still alive, a sentiment shared by the US military personnel and South Korean doctors who fought to save him after he was shot five times.
  • Around 30,000 North Koreans have defected since the Korean War to escape the tragedy that is life in North Korea.

A North Korean defector who made a mad dash to freedom amid a hail of bullets in November 2017 says he’s lucky to be alive.

In his first television interview with a US broadcaster since his escape, Oh Chong Song told NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that it’s a “miracle” he made it out.

Oh, a former North Korean soldier, made international headlines when he bolted through the Demilitarized Zone into South Korea, suffering multiple gunshot wounds as his comrades, hot on his heels, pumped rounds into the fleeing man.

“I was extremely terrified,” Oh told NBC, recounting his escape. “I was wearing a padded jacket and the bullet penetrated through here and came out this way. Because of that penetration wound, the muscle there was blown apart and I could feel the warmth of the blood flowing underneath me. I still ran.”

He collapsed on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he explained. South Korean soldiers rushed to him and dragged him to cover.

Oh’s daring escape was captured on video:

“I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle,” Oh explained. “I can’t believe it’s me in the video.” He told NBC Nightly News that he was not in his right mind as he was escaping. “I was driving at a very high speed.”

Fleeing to South Korea was an impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision. He said that had he been caught, assuming they didn’t kill him as he fled, he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

The US medic who treated the defector never thought the young man, who was shot five times during his escape, would even make it to the hospital.

“I remember thinking this guy is probably going to die in the next 15 minutes,” Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh previously told Stars and Stripes. The Black Hawk helicopter, flying as fast as the crew could go at 160 mph, needed at least 20 minutes to get to the medical center.

But Singh managed to keep him alive as Oh drifted in and out of consciousness.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him. If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.” the defector told NBC.

“It’s truly a miracle. He was fighting all the way,” Singh told reporters, saying he’d like to meet Oh. “But just knowing that he’s OK, that’s a pretty good reward.”

Doctors, who fought fiercely to keep Oh alive, also called his survival miraculous.

When the defector arrived at Ajou University Trauma Center in Suwon, just outside of Seoul, he was bleeding out and struggling to breathe. Not only did the doctors have to treat Oh for gunshot wounds, but they also had to deal with large parasites as they worked to repair his intestines, which were torn open by bullet fragments.

South Korean surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said Oh was “like a broken jar.”

“His vital signs were so unstable, he was dying of low blood pressure, he was dying of shock,” he told CNN. Oh had multiple surgeries over a period of several days. “It’s a miracle that he survived,” the doctor said.