The family of Park Joon-hyuk, a 25-year-old student hospitalized in Flagstaff, Arizona, after a fall at Grand Canyon National Park, is asking the South Korean government to help with his hospital bill of over $886,000.
The request has sparked fierce debate, with some arguing the government should not be held responsible for an individual’s accident and others insisting the government should step in.
Park, who is currently unconscious, fell off a cliff near Yavapai Point along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Dec. 30 and is receiving medical treatment at Flagstaff Medical Center.
An undergraduate student at Busan-based Dong-A University, Park visited the Grand Canyon as part of a group tour after studying for a year in Canada before he was to head back to Korea.
The cause of the accident remains a sticking point in determining whether Park or the travel agency should be held accountable.
According to local broadcaster Channel A, the Los Angeles-based tour agency that managed Park’s trip claimed “(Park) disregarded safety instructions. The accident happened while he was taking a picture at a place we had advised (everyone) to stay away from.”
But Park’s sister was quoted as saying, “According to the person who rescued my brother, his cellphone was in his down jacket. It (the fall) didn’t happen while he was taking a picture.
“We have many doubts as to how the agency guided tourists.”
Park’s hospital bill currently stands at over 1 billion won ($886,000) and a transfer to a Korean hospital would cost about 200 million won. His international student insurance expired Dec. 25, five days before the accident.
Park’s sister was unavailable for comment.
The issue came into the national spotlight following an online petition on Cheong Wa Dae’s website last week written by Park’s family, asking the government for financial support based on the country’s obligation to protect its citizens.
“We would like to bring him back, but it is impossible because of legal issues with the travel agency alongside the 1 billion won hospital bill and 200 million won to transfer a patient … If you would say the country has a responsibility to protect even a single citizen, we desperately ask for help for Park, a Korean citizen, to return home,” the petition said.
The petition had garnered support from 20,201 people as of 2 p.m. on Thursday.
In the midst of the controversy, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Los Angeles issued a statement indicating it would provide support for Park’s family.
“We are currently in contact with the family to check on the situation. We have dispatched a local worker to Flagstaff Medical Center, where Park is hospitalized, to help with administrative aspects. I believe we are also in discussion about his hospital bill and transfer to Korea,” said Hwang In-sang, the deputy consul general in Los Angeles.
By Kim Bo-gyung (firstname.lastname@example.org