Please Make a Note of the Planning Required for a Successful Water Escape

Fourteen hours on a Jet Ski (image: Google Maps)

I might need to start another website devoted to the problems with attempted water escapes. The number of such attempts does not seem to be diminishing despite years of attention to the issue. Nor has your interest in them, judging by the number of reports I get. As you know, my general advice is to avoid even trying this, because it can be quite dangerous and is almost never successful. That advice stands. But if you’re going to try it, you need to put some real thought and effort into your attempt. “Use a boat” should probably be at the top of your list, though that’s no guarantee.

But here we have a very rare example of an water escape attempt that appears to have succeeded, even though it involved a trip of almost 200 miles across open water on a Jet Ski.

Note: I know “Jet Ski” is a brand name, and it’s not clear what brand this was. But “Jet Ski” is often used generically, probably to the horror of Kawasaki’s attorneys; I don’t like “water scooter,” the term used by the Washington Post; and “personal watercraft” for some reason just creeps me out.

You will of course recall that this is not the first time someone has tried such a thing. See Attempt to Flee Australia on a Jet Ski Fails (90 Miles Later)” (Mar. 28, 2019). “Fleeing Australia” will necessarily involve traveling over water, of course. Though Australia isn’t really “close” to anything, it is closest to Papua New Guinea. That’s about 100 miles away, and this guy made it about 94 before Australian officers (who had actual boats) caught up to him. Still, an impressive failure.

At the end of that piece, I noted that I had started this category by writing about a guy standing in a pond, and was now writing about a 94-mile-long sea chase across the probably shark-infested Torres Strait. “If this is escalating,” I wrote, “I look forward to seeing where it goes next.”

The answer turns out to be South Korea.

On August 16, officials detained a man whose Jet Ski had gotten stuck in mud flats near Incheon, a port near Seoul. Jet Skis have probably gotten stuck there before, but this is likely the first one that came from China, almost 200 miles away on the other side of the Yellow Sea. The man turned out to be 35-year-old dissident Kwon Pyong, who was once jailed for 18 months for “insulting the state authority and the socialist system,” and who was barred from leaving the country after his release Well, he was barred from leaving it in the usual ways, but they probably didn’t think to prohibit him from having a Jet Ski.

Is 200 miles a long and/or dangerous trip to take on a Jet Ski? I would say yes, though my answer would be influenced by my long-standing belief that the world’s shark population has agreed to make every effort to eat me should I ever go near the ocean. Setting that aside, it still seems like a long way. It was beyond the fuel capacity of a (shudder) personal watercraft, according to this analysis by a Popular Mechanics writer. There are many variables, but she concludes Kwon would have had to refuel at least once and maybe twice. The need to carry extra fuel would have reduced his speed, as would the need to dodge sharks and other deadly sea creatures along the way. According to the New York Times, it took Kwon 14 hours to make the trip, so much of it must have been in the dark. Not for me, thanks, although if the alternative was a Communist prison—well, no, still not for me.

But if you’re going to try a water escape, this shows the kind of planning necessary to have any hope of success. Friends said Kwon had been making plans for years, and he not only had a vehicle with extra fuel but also a helmet, life jacket, a telescope, and a compass. (Granted, it looks like it would’ve been pretty hard to miss Korea as long as he was generally heading east, but a compass was still a good idea.)

Kwon has reportedly applied for asylum in South Korea, which is said to be very hard to get. I would award bonus points for the way he got there, while still advising others not to try it.