85 Year-Old American Pulled Off Plane, Presumed Held By North Korea

An 85 year old American was recently pulled off a plane leaving North Korea and nobody seems to know where he is:

An 85-year-old American man on an organized tour of North Korea was pulled off a departing plane in Pyongyang just minutes before it was to depart, the man’s son told CNN on Wednesday.

The family has had no contact with Merrill Newman of Palo Alto, California, since he was detained on October 26, his son Jeff Newman said.

“This is a misunderstanding. My father is a (Korean War) veteran and wanted to see the country and culture he has been interested in for years,” Jeff Newman said. “He arranged this with a travel agent that was recommended and said was approved by the North Korean government for travel of foreigners. He had all the proper visas.”

The U.S. State Department is working to resolve the matter with North Korea’s top ally, China.

Ambassador Glyn Davies, the U.S. Special Representative for North Korean Policy, met in Beijing for several hours on Thursday with his Chinese counterpart.


North Korea has not publicly acknowledged it detained Newman. But the family believes the elder Newman’s military service during the Korean War may be related to his detention, his son said.

Park Syung-je, chairman of the Seoul-based Asia Strategy Institute, says Newman may have been arrested on espionage charges.

As a Korean War veteran, Newman might have told his minders he fought against North Korea. They likely reported it, and it resulted in his detention.

As always with the North Koreans, the question is what Pyongyang wants in exchange for cooperation in this matter.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. roger says:

    I imagine Dennis Rodman is packing his bags right now.

  2. Franklin says:

    Actually, I was going to say, “Why couldn’t they have done this to Rodman?”