SEOUL, South Korea — A man and a woman who took poison Tuesday while under detention at a Persian Gulf airport may have been responsible for the Sunday crash of a Korean Air jetliner with 115 people on board, a South Korean government official said.
The official, Assistant Foreign Minister Park Soo Gil, told reporters, "I strongly suspect they are the criminals who could have planted a bomb in the plane."
The man involved, who appeared to be in his 60s, and the woman, about 30, were traveling on false Japanese passports, according to news agency reports. They left the jetliner--which was en route from Baghdad, Iraq, to Seoul--in the Persian Gulf state of Abu Dhabi, its last stop before the crash. They later flew to nearby Bahrain.
There the two were later detained as they were leaving because of suspicions raised by the woman's passport. While being questioned, they bit into vials of poison concealed in cigarettes.
1 Dies, 1 in Hospital
The man died shortly afterward. The woman was reported to be in critical condition at a hospital, but officials said she is likely to survive.
Park said that Japanese investigators had found evidence that appeared to link the woman with a pro-North Korean organization in Japan. He said the two may have left explosives on the plane when they disembarked.
The plane, a Boeing 707, disappeared Sunday in an area near the Thai-Burmese border, but it was not until Tuesday that search teams sighted the wreckage. A Thai border police officer was quoted by news agencies as saying that the site was about six miles inside Burma near the Salween River, which forms part of the border between the two countries.
The area of dense jungle is controlled by Karen rebels, who have been fighting for independence for decades.
A Thai air force helicopter pilot who circled the crash site said the plane had slammed into a cliff, according to a United Press International report from Thailand.
Thai officials said there was little hope of finding any survivors. All but two of the passengers on the plane were Korean, according to the airline.
No Distress Signal
Even before the two people were detained in Bahrain, Korean Air officials had suggested the possibility that a bomb had caused the crash because the plane went down without any warning or distress signal.
KAL President Cho Choong Kun told the state-run television network, "Without a sudden explosion, which I very strongly suspect is the work of terrorists in connection with the 1988 Olympic Games, it could never have happened." The 1988 Summer Games are scheduled to be held in Seoul.
Another KAL official said: "By all indications a bomb explosion is the most probable cause of the incident. The plane was equipped with four engines and advanced communications systems, and any technical troubles must have been signaled. Only a sudden terrorist attack such as a bomb blast could be a viable explanation.
"We have two groups in mind that might have planned terrorist attacks. North Korea always wants to sabotage our country, and the (Japanese) Red Army urban guerrilla group was reportedly planning to disrupt the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games."
The state-run broadcasting service in Seoul said investigators are concentrating on possible links between the woman and an organization called Chosoren, which is made up of Koreans living in Japan who support Communist North Korea.
KAL officials have said that two passengers with what appeared to be Korean names were listed on the flight manifest but did not board the plane in Abu Dhabi, according to the Korea Herald. It was not clear whether there was a connection between these two people and the two traveling on Japanese passports, or whether they might have been the same two. Korean residents of Japan sometimes use Japanese as well as Korean names.
The man who killed himself in Bahrain was traveling under the name Shinichi Hachiya and the woman under the name Mayumi Hachiya, authorities in Bahrain said.
Helped With Passport
The Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted a Tokyo resident, Shinichi Hachiya, as saying that he believed that the man who committed suicide may have been a South Korean resident of Japan he knew as Miyamoto.
Hachiya said that in 1983, Miyamoto had helped him obtain a passport by handling the paper work. Hachiya said he still has the passport. The news agency said Miyamoto might have used Hachiya's seal and identity documents to fraudulently obtain a second passport in Hachiya's name.
Hachiya said that Miyamoto has an uncle in Tokyo who has three daughters, and that one of them is named Mayumi.
Park, the South Korean assistant foreign minister, said the man and woman who left the plane at Abu Dhabi had arrived in Baghdad from Yugoslavia. North Korea has an embassy in Yugoslavia, Park said.
He said the two were contacted in Bahrain on Monday by Kim Chung Kee, the charge d'affaires at the Korean Embassy in Bahrain, in an effort to confirm their identity. The man told Kim that the woman was his daughter.