USFK, Pentagon approve student, mother to fly on KC-10 from California
SEOUL — Thanks to a U.S. military medical flight from California and a special Pentagon dispensation, a critically ill South Korean student will be able to spend the Chusok holiday with his family in Seoul.
Late Saturday night, a specially equipped U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender landed at K-16 Air Base, delivering Shin Hyong-jin and his mother back to South Korea.
Shin, 23, had fallen seriously ill after an accident while traveling to the United States, officials said.
For the past few weeks, Shin had been a patient at Rancho Spring Medical Center in Murietta, Calif.
Because of his condition — which included partial paralysis and complications from advanced muscular dystrophy — Shin could not take a commercial flight back to Seoul.
A private medical flight was prohibitively expensive, officials said, and the young man’s condition began to worsen.
Then, about 10 days ago, South Korean legislator Yu Jae-gon, contacted by Shin’s family, turned to the American military for help.
The lawmaker asked top U.S. military officials in South Korea if anything could be done to bring the young man home.
Officials from U.S. Forces Korea agreed to help and forwarded the request to the Pentagon, where the secretary of defense’s office took it under consideration, USFK spokesman Kevin Krejcarek said Sunday.
After a review process, officials approved an emergency medical airlift and assigned a KC-10, normally used as an in-air refueler, to the job.
The flight took off from March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, Calif., with an eight-person Air Force air medical team.
Also aboard were Shin’s mother, Lee Won-ok, and USFK commander Gen. Leon LaPorte, who was returning to Seoul from a congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., Krejcarek said.
“It’s not common,” Krejcarek said of the Pentagon-approved airlift.
Krejcarek could think of only one similar case in the Pacific, when a Japanese woman was transported from a Los Angeles hospital to Yokota Air Base a few years back.
Medical personnel and other family members met the flight carrying Shin when it landed at K-16 around 10:30 p.m., Krejcarek said.
Shin was taken by ambulance to Samsung Hospital in Seoul, officials said.
No word was available immediately Sunday on the young man’s condition.