The two U.S. journalists imprisoned in North Korea since March returned Wednesday morning to Los Angeles with former President Bill Clinton, who helped secure their pardon and safe return.
The plane landed at 8:50 a.m. EDT at a Burbank, Calif., airport to a welcoming crowd of family members, reporters, photographers and officials, including former Vice President Al Gore, who co-founded the cable outlet that employed the journalists, Laura Ling, 32, and Euna Lee, 36.
“We feared that at any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp. Suddenly we were told we were going to a meeting,” Mrs. Ling said. “We walked through the door and saw standing before us President Bill Clinton. … We knew instantly the worst nightmare of ours lives was over.”
Mrs. Ling, along with Mrs. Lee, was arrested on March 17 near the Chinese border with communist North Korea while on assignment for the cable outlet, Current TV.
Mrs. Ling exited the plane at about 9:15 a.m. and hugged family members. Mrs. Lee was greeted by her husband, Michael Saldate, and their 4-year-old daughter, Hanna.
The plane first stopped on a runway and several people and luggage were taken off before the aircraft was towed into a hangar for about 20 minutes for the press conference.
The women were sentenced last month to 12 years of hard labor for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.” They reportedly were held in a guest house in Pyongyang.
“We are obviously extraordinarily relieved,” President Obama said outside the White House just minutes after the reunion. “My hope is the families can enjoy the next couple of days and weeks … and have some good time together.”
He also thanked Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore for their efforts and said “all Americans should be grateful” for their efforts.
Mr. Clinton arrived in North Korea on Tuesday morning to talk with leader Kim Jong-il and departed with the journalists within 24 hours.
He did not speak at the press conference but released a statement.
“I am very happy that after this long ordeal, Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now home and reunited with their loved ones,” he said. “When their families, Vice President Gore and the White House asked that I undertake this humanitarian mission, I agreed. I share a deep sense of relief with Laura and Euna and their families that they are safely home.”
Mr. Gore said at the press conference that the awaiting families were “unbelievable, passionate, motivated and innovative” in their efforts to secure the journalists’ return.
He also told Mrs. Lee that “Hanna has been a great girl since you were gone.”
• To view an AP interactive timeline of U.S.-North Korean relations, click here.
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