Two American journalists freed by North Korea returned home to the United States on Wednesday for a jubilant, emotional reunion with family members and friends they hadn’t seen in nearly five months.
BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Two American journalists freed by North Korea returned home to the United States on Wednesday for a jubilant, emotional reunion with family members and friends they hadn’t seen in nearly five months.
The jet carrying Euna Lee and Laura Ling, reporters for Al Gore’s San Francisco-based Current TV, and former President Bill Clinton arrived at Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport at dawn. Clinton met with communist leader Kim Jong Il on Tuesday to secure the women’s release.
Lee emerged from the jetliner first and was greeted by husband Michael Saldage and 4-year-old daughter Hanna. She hugged the girl and picked her up before all three embraced in a crushing hug.
Ling embraced her husband Iain Clayton as teary family members crowded around.
Thirty hours ago, Ling said, “We feared that any moment we could be sent to a hard labor camp.”
Then, she said, they were taken to another location.
“When we walked through the doors, we saw standing before us President Bill Clinton,” she said to applause. “We were shocked but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end, and now we stand here, home and free.”
Clinton came down the stairs to applause. He hugged Gore at the foot of the stairs, then chatted with family members.
Gore described the families of the two women as “unbelievable, passionate, involved, committed, innovative.”
“Hanna’s been a great girl while you were gone,” he told Lee. “And Laura, your mom’s been making your special soup for two days now.”
He also thanked the State Department for its help in the release.
“It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harms way, that so many people will just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending,” he said.
The reporters were granted a pardon by North Korea on Tuesday, following rare talks between Clinton and the reclusive North Korea leader. They had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor for entering the country illegally.
In Washington, the White House said it’s “enormously pleased” with the release.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs made the comment Lee and Ling emerged from the plane.
Gibbs, speaking to reporters at the White House, said Clinton will fill in President Barack Obama’s national security team on what transpired during his trip as a private envoy to Pyongyang.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hailed the release of the journalists.
“I spoke to my husband on the airplane and everything went well,” she told reporters in Nairobi, Kenya. “They are extremely excited to be reunited soon when they touch down in California. It was just a good day to be able to see this happen.”
Ling, a 32-year-old California native, is the younger sister of Lisa Ling, a correspondent for CNN as well as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “National Geographic Explorer.” Lee, 36, is a South Korean-born U.S. citizen.
They were arrested near the North Korean-Chinese border in March while on a reporting trip for Current TV.