▶ Watch Video: U.S. soldier Travis King deported by North Korea

Travis King, the young American soldier who crossed the border on foot from South Korea into North Korea in July, was back in the U.S. early Thursday. A defense official confirmed to CBS News that a plane carrying King landed in San Antonio at about 1:30 a.m. EDT.

North Korea announced Wednesday that it would expel King, with the totalitarian state’s tightly-controlled media saying he had confessed to entering the country illegally.

On Wednesday, King was first sent across North Korea’s border into China, where he was transferred to U.S. custody. U.S. officials said there were no concessions made by Washington to secure King’s release.  

King was met by Nicholas Burns, the American ambassador to China, in the city of Dandong, which borders North Korea, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said at a briefing later on Wednesday. His plane stopped in Shenyang, China, before continuing on to the U.S., where American officials said he would land at a military base.

King appeared to be in “good health and good spirits as he makes his way home,” a U.S. official said, adding that he was also “very happy” to be coming back.

Miller said that while he didn’t have specific information about King’s treatment in North Korean custody, it was likely that King was interrogated. “That would be consistent with past DPRK practice with respect to detainees,” he said.

This family photo shows a portrait of American soldier Travis King displayed at the home of his grandfather Carl Gates, July 19, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

Family Photo/AP

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan thanked the Swedish government and China for their roles in arranging King’s release.

Jonathan Franks, a representative for King’s family, shared a message from the soldier’s mother, Claudine Gates, on social media Wednesday, saying she would be “forever grateful to the United States Army and all its interagency partners for a job well done,” and requesting privacy for the family.

King, a Private 2nd Class in the U.S. Army, entered North Korea while taking part in a guided tour of the border village of Panmunjom, which he joined after absconding from an airport in Seoul, South Korea, where he was supposed to have boarded a flight back to the U.S.

North Korea previously claimed that King had told investigators he crossed the border because he “harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.”

The U.S. military said at the time that it could not verify those allegations.

The soldier had been scheduled to return to the U.S. after serving time at a South Korea detention facility for assaulting two people and kicking a police car while in the country. After parting ways from his U.S. military escort at the airport, King skipped his flight and joined the civilian tour of the border town, where he ran across into North Korea.

North Korea confirms American Travis King is there, says he’s escaping racism in U.S. Army


In an interview last month with The Associated Press, King’s mother, Claudine Gates, said her son had “so many reasons” to want to come home.

“I just can’t see him ever wanting to just stay in Korea when he has family in America. He has so many reasons to come home,” she said.

King has served in the U.S. Army since January 2021. He has not been deployed for active duty but was in South Korea as part of the Pentagon’s regular Korean Force Rotation.

King is likely to have proven “unsuitable for propaganda purposes” to North Korea, Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean studies in Seoul told CBS News, because the soldier entered North Korea as a fugitive, making it “difficult” for the country’s authorities to deal with him.

Yang also told CBS News the decision to deport the soldier was likely made in part due to a “lukewarm” response to the incident by Washington.

CBS News’ Cami McCormick in Washington, D.C., and Jen Kwon in Seoul contributed to this report.