Savannah Guthrie paused her Olympics coverage on Wednesday to take Today cameras to the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the heavily guarded area that separates Winter Games host country South Korea from North Korea.
Guided by U.S. Army Colonel Steven Lee, NBC News became the first Western media outlet to tour the path taken by North Korean soldier Oh Chong Song, who defected and escaped across the border in November.
Cameras caught the solider speeding a car through a North Korean guard post before getting stuck in a ditch. He then took off on foot, where he was shot at by his country’s forces and hit five or six times. Numerous bullet holes were still evident on walls and structures.
Typically, DMZ is considered the “peace village,” where the two countries are encouraged to work diplomatically.
“This place is different than all the other places along the demilitarized zone,” Lee said. “It is specifically for dialogue so we shouldn’t have provocations like that, so that was even more significant that they fired here in this area.”
Guthrie and Lee then walked a path similar to the one the defector took, arriving to where he hid under leaves until South Korean forces could get him. However, the recovery took nearly 15 minutes.
“We knew that their guard post there could see here. So instead of just walking up to him, they literally had to crawl on their belly, inch by inch to get to him,” Lee explained.
Guthrie replied, “Because for all you know, if they see him getting rescued, they take another shot.”
“Right, exactly,” Lee said. “That’s why we took what we assessed to be very prudent measures to rescue him but also to protect our forces.”
Lee explained that as the defector was airlifted to receive medical attention for his wounds, the South Korean side had to use a bullhorn to relay that information to North Korea. They also communicated that they were investigating the incident.
The U.N. command did attempt to call via a phone used specifically to reach North Korea, but they did not pick up. In fact, North Korea hasn’t answered the call since 2013.
The soldier was the first defector to pass through the DMZ since 1984, according to NBC News. However, CNN reported that a second solider made a similar escape in December, though there were no shots fired at him. He was taken into custody by South Korea, who planned to do an investigation.