CW2 Hall was taking CW2 Hilemon on an orientation flight south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea. The declassified file says Hall had only flown there twice before, but was “confident in his ability to navigate along the NFL” with just a map and compass.
However, on the day of the flight snow covered the area, according to media reports. Hall apparently “turned north up the wrong valley” toward North Korea. Concerned they had made a navigation error, the pilots checked their map, but again mistook their location. They continued flying under the incorrect assumption their chopper was being tracked by US radar operators, who would warn them if they got lost. In reality, they were speeding into North Korean airspace and neither they nor their controllers back at base knew it.
Hall eventually realized the terrain beneath them did not match the location on the map where they were supposed to be. Handing control to Hilemon, Hall checked his map again and told Hilemon to turn around. Just as they began to retreat, a blast from a North Korean anti-aircraft weapon shattered the windshield. Hall grabbed the controls and controlled descent until about 20 feet above North Korea, when “the aircraft just fell to the ground.”
Hilemon, of Clarksville, TN, was killed in the crash and Hall captured. The downing came at a sensitive time, with America and its allies in the early stages of a plan to trade billions of dollars in aid for North Korean promises to halt its nuclear weapons program (a plan which later failed for other reasons).
Hall spent 13 days in North Korean captivity before being released -- with the assistance of then Congressman and noted North Korea negotiator Bill Richardson -- in return for a US statement expressing “sincere regret” for the incident, which North Korea called an “espionage mission.” Upon his return, Hall told the US media he had not been abused by the North Koreans but “felt under pressure” to sign a confession, which was exploited in North Korean propaganda (see report below on North Korea’s continued use of the incident for propaganda.)
The declassified Pentagon documents also include a review of Hall’s legal status while a North Korean captive. Based on an “exhaustive analysis of the legal status of the Korean armistice” by the State Department years earlier, and a Department of Defense study from the previous year involving American military flights over Iraq, the December 1994 report concludes Hall was a prisoner of war “entitled to all GPW (Geneva Convention prisoner of war) protections, including visits by the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross).” This legal report has implications for future DMZ incidents and can be found here.