By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON () – U.S. Army Private Travis King landed at a U.S. military base in Texas early on Thursday after being expelled from North Korea following his surprise dash across the heavily militarized border two months ago, a U.S. defense official told
King arrived on a U.S. military flight, landing at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston at about 0530 GMT, the official said.
Television footage showed a group of people leaving a plane at the base at that time.
King is expected to undergo a medical review at Brooke Army Medical Center, a hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Basketball star Brittney Griner was treated there in December after a prisoner swap with Russia ended her 10 months in Russian detention.
The U.S. government has said that upon his return King will first undergo evaluation then a reintegration process so he can be reunited with his family.
King, 23, ran into North Korea from the South on July 18 while on a civilian tour of the heavily fortified border and was immediately taken into North Korean custody.
It was unclear if King will face disciplinary action by the U.S. Army, which has treated his case with care. The Army so far not called him a deserter, even though he crossed the border without authorization while on active duty.
For its part, North Korea appears to have treated his case as one of illegal immigration.
North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said King told Pyongyang he entered North Korea illegally because he was “disillusioned about unequal U.S. society.”
The Swedish government, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic presence in the country, retrieved King in North Korea and brought him to China.
The State Department said the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Nicholas Burns, met King in Dandong, China, a city bordering North Korea. King then flew from there to Shenyang, China, then to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea, before continuing his voyage back to the United States.
King, who joined the U.S. army in January 2021, faced two allegations of assault in South Korea. He pleaded guilty to one instance of assault and destroying public property for damaging a police car during a profanity-laced tirade against Koreans, according to court documents. He had been due to face more disciplinary measures when he arrived back in the United States.
In July, King had finished serving military detention and was at the airport awaiting U.S. military transport to his home unit in the United States. Instead, he left the airport and joined a tour of the border area, where he ran into North Korea despite attempts by South Korean and U.S. guards to stop him.