Freed Americans return to U.S. soil after imprisonment in North Korea

WASHINGTON (KKTV) - Three Americans imprisoned in North Korea are now free men back on U.S. soil.

Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim arrived at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland in the middle of the night. The men were greeted by President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and several other government officials.

Chul, Song and Kim were ebullient as they exited the plane, thrusting their arms in the air and making the "victory" sign to a round of applause. They were flanked by the Trumps, who had met with them privately on board the aircraft before they all got off.

Trump first broke the news that the men had been freed in a tweet Wednesday morning.

The longest-imprisoned of the three, Chul had been sentenced two years ago to a decade of hard labor for espionage. The other two, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, were employed by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology when they were detained last year.

The White House had previously said a release of the prisoners would be a sign of goodwill heading into the upcoming summit between Kim Jong Un and Trump.

"We think that that would be an incredible sign of goodwill, and certainly a great statement for the North Koreans to make ahead of the summit and the discussions," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on May 3.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was able to secure their release during a meeting with Kim Jong Un over the upcoming United States/North Korea summit.

Chul, Song and Kim are the latest in a line of Americans to be imprisoned in North Korea for seemingly trivial offenses and to later be bailed out by senior U.S. officials.

Some stories have had happy endings, such as when former President Bill Clinton helped secure a pardon for two U.S. journalists in 2009.

Others were far more tragic. Otto Warmbier, 22, died shortly after his release. He suffered severe brain damage during his 17-month incarceration.