Disappearance totally out of character, says friend

By Tony Gee

Young Korean mill administration manager Hyung Jun Cho - missing since his crashed car was found down a bank beside a Northland highway on Monday - had no reason to disappear, his best friend in New Zealand believes.

Alex Kim says his missing friend had a ticket booked to return to Korea next Friday for a holiday.

"There's absolutely no reason for him to hide or disappear. It's totally out of character," Mr Kim says.

Mr Cho, 28, did not return to his Ruakaka home, southeast of Whangarei, last Sunday after dining in Auckland on Saturday night and then setting out to drive north.

He got as far as 2km north of Kaiwaka, between Wellsford and the Brynderwyn Hills.

His damaged white Mitsubishi Lancer, registration DME693, was found late on Monday off State Highway 1 down a bank by searching police who had been alerted when Mr Cho failed to turn up for work at a Ruakaka sawmill that morning.

A 19-strong search and rescue team including a police dog and handler found no trace of Mr Cho in the area around the crash site.

Searches of the highway roadside between Kaiwaka township and the bottom of the Brynderwyn Hills have found nothing, and police are now focusing their investigation on possible witnesses and sightings of him at the Caltex service station in Wellsford in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The police helicopter Eagle is expected to fly north today to make an aerial search of the area.

Mr Kim, who works for MAF Quarantine Services at Auckland Airport and has known Mr Cho for 20 years, told the Herald that the last person Mr Cho spoke to before he vanished was a girl who called him on his cellphone at 2.07am on Sunday.

Mr Kim said he was unsure whether the female caller was a girlfriend. A relationship with a previous girlfriend had ended about three or four months ago.

Cellphone records show Mr Cho was in the Kaiwaka area between 2am and 2.30am on Sunday before his phone lost coverage.

Police believe he met with an accident around this time.

Before his last call, Mr Cho had been at the Caltex service station in Wellsford about 1.45am. He bought cigarettes.

Mr Kim says Mr Cho was always helpful to others. He was outgoing, enjoyed sports and was learning to play golf.

He also helped families in Whangarei's Korean community, especially those whose English was limited.

Mr Cho is 1.70m tall. He is of medium build and has short black hair. * Anyone with recent information about Mr Cho should contact Ruakaka police on (09) 432-7719 or Whangarei police on (09) 430-4500.

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