The soldier had sped toward the border in a "peace village" in the heavily guarded demilitarized zone, in a four- wheel drive vehicle.
But when a wheel came loose, he fled on foot as North soldiers fired about 40 rounds at him, said Suh Wook, chief director of operations at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefing lawmakers.
"Until this morning, we heard he had no consciousness and was unable to breathe on his own, but his life can be saved," Suh said yesterday.
Surgeons removed five bullets from the soldier's body, leaving two inside, Suh added, to murmurs from lawmakers, who said the soldier's Monday escape was "right out of a movie."
The soldier took cover behind a South Korean structure in a Joint Security Area inside the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. South Korean and US soldiers, fearing more North Korean fire, later crawled to rescue him.
While more than 1,000 North Koreans on average defect to the South every year, most travel via China, and it is rare for a North Korean to cross the land border dividing the two Koreas, which have been in a technical state of war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not peace treaty.