Chaos as U.S. soldier Travis King bolted into North Korea -witness

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – American and South Korean guards shouted “get him” as they scrambled unsuccessfully to stop U.S. Army soldier Travis King from sprinting into North Korea, a New Zealand woman who was on the same tour to the border area said on Wednesday.

“It all happened pretty quickly,” said Sarah Leslie, who was in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with some 40 other tourists who were walking around and taking photos in the moments before King made a mad dash to nuclear-armed and reclusive North Korea.

The group had just left one of the iconic blue buildings that straddles the border between the two Koreas and is used for negotiations, when King suddenly ran between the structures toward the North, she said.

“Someone ran close to me very fast and I thought, ‘What is going on?’,” Leslie told Reuters. “I don’t think anyone who was sane would want to go to North Korea, so I assumed it was some kind of stunt.”

The U.S. military was scrambling on Wednesday to determine King’s fate after what officials said was a wilful, unauthorised crossing of the border into North Korea, throwing Washington into a new crisis in its dealings with the state.

King was wearing jeans, a black shirt and a black hat with the letters “DMZ” printed on it, Leslie said.

“I probably only saw him running for like a few seconds and that’s all it would have taken to get across the border,” she said.

One American soldier shouted “get him,” and other American and South Korean guards ran after King, but he was already on the north side of the border, Leslie said.

“It was too late,” she said, adding that he disappeared from sight and she didn’t see him enter any buildings or be detained by North Korean guards.

The guards then quickly herded the rest of the group into a building and onto a bus to leave the area, she said.

“I can’t think why anyone would want to do that. You could get shot crossing the line… It was quite frantic.”

(Reportng by Ju-min Park; Writing by Hyunsu Yim; Editing by Josh Smith and Bernadette Baum)