35 tons of toys heading who knows where.
If I may speculate, that’s an Ilyushin Il-76 (M variant due to the tail gunner cockpit on the tail!), maximum loaded range of 3600km, YMMV. Google Earth gives me a straight line distance between North Korea and Bangkok of 3600km… so my guess is that this plane was trying to make it to Myanmar to refuel and continue to some other place or else just deliver the weapons there. It wouldn’t be the first time the Myanmar junta buys at Lil’ Kim’s shop.
It either ran out of fuel due to crew range miscalculations or that old Il-76PoS was leaking like a sieve or chugging down fuel like a MoFo, or the ground crew pulled a fast one on them, unexpected headwinds, a Double-O-Seven on board sabotaging the flight, etc, etc…
35 tons of toys heading who knows where.
Next time I’ll just buy from the arms dealer up the street. Damn Lil Kim and his guaranteed delivery!
If that was Viktor Bout, he has got to be furious. He has done an excellent job of managing to keep exactly this sort of thing happening.
Will be keeping an eye on this one. Very interesting.
Ale, what are the diplomatic relations between Thailand and N. Korea? I don’t know how the 2 nations get along.
I can tell you Thailand and North Korea generally have excellent diplomatic relations. The two keep embassies in each other’s capital. North Korea buys A LOT of rice from Thailand, but I understand there’s a huge outstanding bill at the moment that is a sticking point.
The good diplomatic relations make it tricky when defectors show up here. Many do after travelling overland through China and Laos. Many get nabbed up North in Chiang Rai province, which borders Laos. The wife and I have personally witnessed a group of five or six non-Thai Asians, who looked suspiciously Korean, get pulled off a bus we were on in Chiang Saen district of that province when they could produce no documents at a checkpoint and could not speak Thai OR English. A Thai-speaking lady was accompanying them, but her story that they were a group of tourists out for the day didn’t wash. She was clearly their local handler. This was in September 2006; I remember the month and year because I was playing in the elephant-polo tournament there at that time. (This was before my shoulder problems.) That particular district is a major crossing point for North Korean refugees, and for a small backwater it has an unusual number of Korean restaurants. And whenever a North Korean gets popped, somehow a local resident Korean or a legal representative finds out about it immediately and shows up at the police station to do what he can.
Occasionally, there will be raids in Bangkok, with dozens or even scores of North Korean defectors nabbed inside a single house or a cluster of houses. These are usually found in neighborhoods with a high concentration of Korean residents. Wanting to maintain good relations with North Korea, they always publicize these round-ups, but as far as I know, none has ever been rapatriated to North Korea. Instead, they’re all eventually, and queitly, allowed to settle in third countries via the UNHCR. But while in detention, they’re held in deplorable conditions; maybe that makes North Koea happy? And occasionally, groups of North Korean defectors will rush into the South Korean or Japanese Embassy to demand asylum. You can see something on North Korean asylum-seekers in Thailand here.
Ten years ago there was an odd incident involving a North Korean diplomat and his family. He, his wife and 20-year-old son lived outside the embassy compound in an apartment here in Bangkok. The embassy somehow got wind of the fact that they were planning to defect and so kidnapped them from their apartment! They tried spiriting them away overland to the the Lao capital of Vientiane, which is just across the Mekong River from our Nong Khai province. Presumably, the plan was to fly them back to Pyongyang from Vientiane.
I say “presumably” because their plan was foiled when one of the cars in the convoy blew a tire on the highway to the border and crashed. The family was rescued by Thai authorities. North Korea tried to say the diplomat had embezzled tens of millions of US dollars that had been earmarked for the outstanding rice bill, and that was why he and his family were being “recalled.” Then a bizarre twist: The 20-year-old son denounced his parents, who he said was forcing him to defect against his will. The last I heard, the parents did settle in the West, and the son is back in North Korea.
You can see something about the aftermath of this incident here.
Oh Noes! Those boys will be in big trouble with The King of Courvoisier.
Damn. Now I’ve got to start my Christmas shopping all over again.
35 tonnes isn’t actually a great deal of small arms and ammunition, in a military sense.
Of course, given that it could very well end up in the hands of who only knows, that’s not an attempt to trivialise it; just an observation before people start over-reacting.
Latest news I’ve read say that the pilot is babbling and claims that the weapons where destined to Ukraine, the flight plan included a pit stop at Sri Lanka; kind of a strange route if you’d ask me.
In any case the pilot says he didn’t know the cargo was weapons claiming that they where under the understanding that the large SAMs in the back I saw in a picture (among other more concealed stuff) were oil rig equipment. Riiiiiight.
I think even Inspector Clouseau would figure the unlikliness of the Ukranian government buying weapons from North Korea.
Are North Korean weapons any good? My impression was the country was so screwed up it couldn’t really make anything to sell on the international market anymore. Except drugs.
Their nuclear bomb was supposedly a dud (less than 1 kiloton). And when S. Korea had a disaster the medical supplies from the North were so crappy they were turned away.
Why would a nation buy weapons from North Korea when other nations like Russia, China or the US are selling higher quality ones?
If Pashtun tribesmen in the Khyber pass can make (just) functioning Lee-Enfields and AK-47 knock-offs out of railway lines, wrecked cars, and so forth, then I’m sure North Korea can get their hands on the facilities and raw materials to make actual AK-47s without too much difficulty…
Russia, China, and the US have images and reputations to keep up, especially when selling arms. That leads to things that may be expensive, tricky, or illegal…not exactly conducive for people who need weapons right away. Places like North Korea, OTOH, don’t care about any of that. If you can pay then you get the guns, trade embargoes and anti-gun resolutions be damned.
The US, maybe. Russia is pretty cavalier about who it deals with, and China (“Friend of small, oppressed tyrants everywhere”) is North Korea’s biggest bestest friend.
(At least, that’s my impression of world events).
There are rumours that a Thai fighter, or a squadron of them, depending on the rumor, actually forced the plane down. However, I know a senior Thai newspaper editor who has some pretty good contacts in the US Embassy here, and he said he flat-out asked one about that – could have been a US request – and the contact denied the rumor, said it was just a fluke this plane happened to land in Bangkok for refuelling.
But odd questions remain. They’re saying a plane this size should have been able to fly from Pyongyang to Sri Lanka, it’s intended initial destination, without refuelling at all. Flying time is about 5 or 6 hours. And even if it did need to refuel, why Bangkok and not Rangoon? Thailand may be friendly with North Korea, but the Burmese junta are like their fuck buddies. Seems to be a lot more to this than is being told.
Maybe it’s just something as simple as the cheapo North Koreans not really filling up the tanks like they said they did. Or maybe the crew aboard the plane was afraid they’d have to give a cut to the Burmese junta.
I dunno, that could be thousands of AKs.
Enough is enough! I have had it with these MF weapons on this MF plane!
sorry, it was the OP title made me do it.
There’s no way that plane type can fly that distance carrying 40 tons of cargo, I guess the range with that payload to be at most 4500 to a very stretched 5000 km. Pyongyan to Colombo, through a route around China (as they seemed to be avoiding) is 6200 km.
I looked around a bit to sharpen up my figures and if the plane is an Il-76MD (a newer model with much better range than the M variant), with 40 tons of cargo the maximum range is 4800 kilometers. The older M model would have 20% less range, so it’ll be 3840 km.
An AK-47 weighs about 5kgs unloaded, so 35 tonnes of AK-47s is about 7000 guns. The ammunition is the heavy part though- it’s really heavy. From what I’ve read most of the cargo was what would be termed “Ordnance”- rockets, grenades, explosives, that sort of thing.
All sorts of rumors flying around among the press people I know. Despite the embassy denial I mentioned earlier, a lot of people here believe the plane was indeed forced down by request of the White House, presumably because they figured the weapons on board contained nuclear components.
If they did, no one’s saying anything.
Someone over here mentioned an Associated Press story that dug into the background of the plane and found it was indeed conected somehow to some company connected to Viktor Bout. He’s still in jail in Bangkok. The Thai courts wouldn’t extradite him to the US earlier this year, but they’re still holding him while they investigate some of his doings. the crew of this plane they just nabbed are being held in a separate facility but very close to where he is. Could be a reunion in the making!
Ah, and some speculation the weapons were headed for Rangoon.
There was a ship that was headed from North Korea to Burma earlier this year, presumably loaded with arms, that turned back about halfway into the journey rather than risk being boarded by the US Navy. This could have been part of another attempt to get weapons to the Burmese junta.