The Defense Ministry informed reporters at around 4 p.m. on Monday that a conscript who attempted suicide after killing five soldiers and injuring nine others would be taken by helicopter to a military hospital in Gangneung and moved to Asan Hospital in eastern port city.
A military ambulance arrived at Asan Hospital at around 5:30 p.m. and soldiers were spotted carrying a man wrapped in blankets into the emergency room.
Around 50 photographers waiting in front of the hospital were busy taking pictures of the man, which were duly splashed across the nation’s front pages. But it turns out that the person inside the blanket was a decoy.
At around the same time, the conscript, identified only by his surname Lim, had been transported into the OR at Asan Hospital through an underground passage. The military used two more ambulances as decoys to throw journalists off the trail. The other ambulance was ordered to go to another hospital in the city.
A Defense Ministry official said, "Asan Hospital requested that a decoy be used to prevent throngs of reporters from camping out in front of the emergency room, and the Army accepted the request."
But a hospital spokesman denied any such request had been made. The Defense Ministry then backtracked and claimed the request had come from ambulance operators, which are contracted by the hospital.
The Defense Ministry official said there was no choice but to use the decoys, because Lim was bleeding profusely after shooting himself in the chest and they were racing against time. But in fact the Army seemed intent on buying time.
The helicopter carrying Lim arrived at the military hospital in Gangneung at around 4:20 p.m. It only takes 10 minutes from there to Asan Hospital, but Lim arrived a whole hour later at 5:30 p.m., and surgery began after 6 p.m. Photographers were calm and took photos of the decoy in an orderly manner. There was no commotion or attempt to delay the patient entering the emergency room.
The Defense Ministry official later expressed "deep regret" for causing what he claimed was a misunderstanding. But the deceptive move has simply further eroded the credibility of the military in handling the entire incident.
By Jun Hyun-suk from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk