The Mighty Han River! The river is highlighted in Korea’s economic success: the Miracle on the Han. Its waters are also keepers of dark secrets of death and ghosts. 

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A recent mystery inspired this episode. Well known site for suicides (approximately 400 to 500 attempts annually). Other tragedies have occurred, many of them mysteries, including claims of the supernatural. Unfortunately, the river has been the site to a few high profile mysteries the past few years.

Long important to Korean history.

  • Part of Baekje
  • Strategic military site
    • Heavily fortified today
  • Site for merchants and leisure
  • Ice collected here
  • Gives name to Bukhansan mountain cluster
  • Major leisure and tourism site (mostly domestic, but also some inbound)

Unsolved Deaths

2001 – Somewhat of a mystery

  • May 29: Military chopper lowered 88 Olympics Flame statue on platform atop bridge tower
    • After lowering, chopper continued decent (pilot unable to slow descent rate – won’t attempt to fully explain physics that led to disaster)
    • Blades hit statue causing chopper to turn and crash
    • Part of chopper landed on bridge, part landed in Han
    • All three pilots killed
    • Traffic halted at time; no pedestrians hurt
  • Mystery? Apparently, pilot would have known something was wrong and was trained to do so; not much time to respond, but didn’t seemingly didn’t. Why? No one knows
  • The Olympic Flame statue is still atop bridge today

2022 – Rainy season mystery

  • July 6: body of young boy (about ten years old) found near Jeollyu-ri Port (Gimpo)
    • Fishermen found body around noon
    • Boy had no sign of injuries; was extremely thin
      • Wearing shorts (no labels), no shirt (current may have pulled shirt off)
      • Rubber band around waist to hold shorts
    • Decomposition removed fingerprints 
    • Assumptions boy was North Korean
      • Rainy season: N. Korean items wash south
      • Very heavy rains that season; heavy floods
        • Happened before
          • 2007 (August): 11 North Koreans floated south after floods
          • 2016 (August): young child floated south
      • No missing children reports around Gimpo, Paju, or Goyang at the time
    • Authorities didn’t rule out possibility of South Korean child
  • Related:
    • July 2: body of young boy (about 3 to 7 years old) found near Gyodong Island (mouth of Yellow Sea, west of Ganghwa) 
    • July 16: body of infant boy (about 6 months old) found Imjin River, near Tongil Bridge (Paju)
  • Identities, causes of death, and backgrounds of each child remain a mystery 

2021 – High profile death

  • April 25: Son Jung-min and friend drinking together in Banpo Park
  • Allegedly, Son and friend (identity unreleased, as far as I can decipher) fell asleep in park
  • Friend woke up 4:30am (April 26); Son gone; friend had Son’s mobile, couldn’t remember why; friend staggered home
  • Friend with parents returned to look for Son at 5:10am
  • Friend’s mother called Son’s mother at 5:30am
    • Son’s mother questioned why she wasn’t called sooner
    • Friend’s father claimed it was too early to call Son’s parents, opted to search for Son themselves 
  • April 30: Son’s body found in Han; death confirmed to be drowning
  • Witnesses saw Son and friend
    • Son was passed out; friend was awake
    • Witnesses took photos, seeing the situation as odd
    • 2:18am: friend seen rummaging through Son’s items
    • 3:38am: Son awake, sitting up with friend
    • 4:20am: friend seen asleep alone near embankment; stranger wakes friend; friend leaves park 4:30am
  • How Son ended up in river remains a mystery 
  • Very high profile; heavy media coverage; national story

2024 – Korea’s first mystery this year

  • January 6 – 20:07: body discovered floating near Olympic Bridge (Gwangjin-gu)
  • 20:24: police arrive
    • Body of 30-something women with knife in chest
  • Before death
    • Alone whole day
    • 13:00: woman left home; bought knife at shop near home
    • 19:30: arrived at Han River via public transportation
    • 20:07: body discovered in river – those 37 minutes are a mystery 
  • CCTV showed no one else entering or leaving park at the time; she is not seen on CCTV after entering park
  • No defensive marks on body
    • No cuts on arms
  • No sign of hesitation
    • Stabbing yourself often involves hesitation, observable postmortem
    • Knife pierced through her left chest, into her lung – allegedly, knife protruded out her back; can’t verify this
    • Amount of strength to do this to oneself would be immense  
  • Died of blood loss, not drowning – how did her body end up in the river?
  • As of recording (January 15th police statement), circumstances remain a mystery

 The Supernatural

  • Mul-gwishin (aka su-gwishin)
    • Old folktales tell of Han River mul-gwishin
    • Beliefs held that ghosts of suicide victims 
    • Mul-gwishin often blamed for river accidents, including drownings
      • This idea persistent around Korea; recorded other alleged cases in other rivers
  • Japanese ghost
    • Ghost of Japanese soldier cries along Han River
  • Monsters
    • Dragon likely found along Han; inconsistent as dragon’s not always seen as hostile; imugi more likely
    • Allegedly, ‘water-man’ with long hair seen caring for its young, or ‘water-woman’ nursing its young
      • Supposedly sought after for its long hair 
    • Strange creature allegedly witnessed by Bong Joon-ho when in high school; partly influenced The Host
  • Of note: Eobushim held at Han River
    • Rite asking Yongwang for peace and longevity; offerings tossed into river to the god