08/04/2009 at 10:30 PM EDT
Laura Ling and Euna Lee were headed to Los Angeles from North Korea. For their families, their arrival couldn't come soon enough.
"We are counting the seconds to hold Laura and Euna in our arms," the relatives of the American journalists say in a statement.
Ling, 32, and Lee, 36, who work for former Vice President Al Gore's Current TV, were released
from custody Tuesday – pardoned, the North Korean media said, the same day that former President Bill Clinton met with them and with the country's leader Kim Jong II.
"The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee are overjoyed by the news of their pardon," says the statement. "We especially want to thank President Bill Clinton for taking on such an arduous mission and Vice President Al Gore for his tireless efforts to bring Laura and Euna home. We must also thank all the people who have supported our families through this ordeal, it has meant the world to us."
Gore, who had remained quiet during the ordeal, said on his Twitter page, "We are overjoyed by Laura and Euna's safe return." The families also thanked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had engaged in diplomatic efforts.
In an email to the journalists' colleagues, Current TV co-founder Joel Hyatt called the pair "extraordinary women who have shown remarkable courage and initiative" and said their ordeal will not have been in vain.
"To Laura and Euna, we promise this: Your courage and passion will be honored by Current's continued commitment to telling the stories that no one else will tell," Hyatt wrote. "We owe you no less. Celebrate!"
Reporting by CYNTHIA WANG