North Korean Commerce Minister Killed in Helicopter Crash
The accident happened on Tuesday when the helicopter — likely a Mil Mi-8 — was attempting to land on the tiny island of Sundo, located in North Pyongan province near the border with China, according to the Daily NK news portal. “As the helicopter was landing, its tail hit a rock and it crashed,” a source told the website.
Media in North Korea, which is strictly controlled by the government, had not reported on the incident as of Thursday. The country is currently marking what would have been the 70th birthday of former leader Kim Jong-il, and state-run media broadcasts have been dominated by positive news reports.
According to the Daily NK, the helicopter was carrying gifts to the remote island’s residents to mark the birthday of Kim Jong-il, who died of a reported heart attack in December. The source said a film crew from North Korea’s state-run television was also on board to promote the ‘kindness and generosity’ of the country’s new leader, Kim Jong Un.
“The pilot and television film crew managed to escape but Minister Kim Bong-cheol could not escape and died when the helicopter exploded,” the source told Daily NK. “[The crash resulted] in the deaths of five people, including the cabinet commerce minister, [the] commercial director of North Pyongan province and cabinet officials.”
It was not immediately clear when funeral services would be held for the victims. “The Central Party has said that it will hold official funeral services for them today or tomorrow as persons who died in the line of duty, but it is not clear yet,” the source told Daily NK. “They might delay that to avoid ruining the festive atmosphere.”
Few details about Kim Bong-cheol were known, but the senior government official held a number of other positions since at least 1994. He previously served as vice-minister at the Ministry of Commerce, vice-chairman of the North Korea-China Friendship Association, vice-director of the Department of Commerce, and director general of the Commission of Service for the People.