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Four Crew Members Missing

Posted February. 21, 2005 22:50,   


The group of explorers who went on an investigating trip aboard a man-powered raft “Balhae 2005” to observe the maritime trade line between Balhae and Japan went missing in the border of territorial waters of Russia and North Korea.

The Korean Coast Guard’s patrol plane “Challenger” on that day was dispatched to the North Korean territorial waters to search for the missing crew, and found the raft at 5:15 p.m., but failed to confirm whether the explorers were aboard.

The Korean Coast Guard and the Ministry of Unification noted on February 21, “’Balhae 2005,’ which left the port of Posiet, Russia at 2:00 p.m. on February 17, has been unable to be contacted since 5:40 p.m. on February 19 when it sent the last signal,” adding, “The place where it started losing contact is 289 miles, or about 462 kilometers, away from the Dok-do to the north.”

The Korean Coast Guard explained, “Challenger did spot a raft in the sea 241 miles, or about 385 kilometers, away from Dokdo to the north, yet our 5,000-ton naval vessel ‘Sambongho’ was dispatched across the NLL, as the plane could not confirm whether the crew was on board.”

An official from the agency assumed, “It may be that they turned off their communications gear on purpose to save batteries or the gear might have just been broken because there have been no distress calls in sight.” Four crew members including chief explorer Bang Eui-cheon (45), Lee Hyung-jae (41, documentary producer), Hwang Gi-soo (39, mountain climber), and Yeon Jeong-nam (29, rescue instructor) were aboard the “Balhae 2005,” a 4.5-meter-wide, 11 meter-long, and 11-ton log raft.

At 10:20 a.m. on February 21, around 40 hours after the crew members lost contact, the Korean Coast Guard and the Ministry of Unification asked North Korea to allow entry of its plane to the North to search for them in the area, and the North allowed it at about 12:10 p.m. The Korean Coast Guard then sent its patrol plane “Challenger” to the spot at 12:45 p.m. to search for the crew.

For its part, Russia joined the search effort by dispatching its two guard warships to the area at 11:00 a.m. on that day.

In the meantime, a friend of one of the explorers, Nam Hae-kyung (43, editorial writer of Break News), reported, “I talked to Yeon on the phone at about 2:00 p.m. on February 19,” and added, “He said it was hard to continue sailing because of the high waves off the coast of Vladivostok and the frozen deck.”

Kum-Chun Hwang kchwang@donga.com taewon_ha@donga.com