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A Crash in Shanghai raises questions about an airline...
November 28, 2009 12:38 PM   Subscribe

A Zimbabwean cargo aircraft crashed earlier today at Shanghai-Pudong airport, killing three and seriously injuring four. It is not yet known why the aircraft, an ex Varig MD-11F (pic) operated by an airline called Avient, failed to become airborne, but the airline itself has received quite some attention recently. Headquartered in Salisbury, Wiltshire, United Kingdom, they almost went bankrupt, leaving behind massive debts in France, only to almost out of nowhere get this MD-11F, which crashed within a week of being acquired. (pprune, reg req) But that's not the only shady thing about this airline...

Avient is run by Andrew Smith, a former captain of the Royal Engineers, who has made a fortune from a bloody African civil war. "A United Nations report has accused Smith of organising bombing raids in the DRC on behalf of President Joseph Kabila to suppress rebel forces. It is alleged that three years ago Avient received $30,000 a month for recruiting crew from Ukraine to fly in Russian-made Antonovs behind enemy lines in 1999 and 2000." (Observer, link above)

Amnesty International mentioned Avient in A catalogue of failures: G8 Arms Exports and Human Rights Violations: "Besides the “official” trade in weapons, there are a large number of arms traffickers and brokers willing to supply arms to warring factions across Africa. One example is the network operated by Victor Bout who, through his UAE based Air Cess Company, is reported to have delivered arms clandestinely to Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Congo and to have been paid in “conflict diamonds” mined illegally. Much of the weaponry traded originated in Russia, Central Asia and other Eastern European countries. Another example is the Zimbabwean company, Avient, with management links to the UK, which was reported to have hired Russian aircraft and air crew to support the government of Laurent Kabila in the Congo with “air drops”, and also admitted to repairing and maintaining Russian MIG fighters for the Kabila regime."

It is not yet known if Avient was engaged in mercenary activities at the time of this crash but one should hope this event will cause authorities to investigate this operation. Bout is in jail, Smith is still free.

A footnote: 8 MD-11 have been written off, representing 4% of the production.
posted by krautland (32 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
My first thought on hearing bare details of the crash was how sketchy it sounded. The blogger Yorkshire Ranter was a long-time Viktor Bout watcher. Anyway, off to read the rest of your links.
posted by Abiezer at 12:47 PM on November 28, 2009


Is Andrew Smith by any chance friends with Mark Thatcher?
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 12:48 PM on November 28, 2009


An African jet crashes in Shanghai and it all links back to a wealthy British mercenary? Wow. I know this is the kind of comment that is tossed out all the time, but this literally reads like something out of James Bond.
posted by mannequito at 1:01 PM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


andrew seems smarter than mark but I kept wondering about him and victor knowing each other while writing this. just for the record, I don't mean to imply I know this is an actual criminal enterprise, I just saw all the sketchy elements mentioned in the various places linked above and thought this would be an interesting developing story to watch.
posted by krautland at 1:03 PM on November 28, 2009


"It is not yet known why the aircraft, an ex Varig MD-11F (pic) operated by an airline called Avient, failed to become airborne"

Lack of lift.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:08 PM on November 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


The Earth failed to drop away as expected.
posted by jfuller at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2009


Avient , Chinese arnaments and Zimbabwe have all come together before.
Neat post krautland.
posted by adamvasco at 1:14 PM on November 28, 2009


armaments
posted by adamvasco at 1:15 PM on November 28, 2009


Was this plane on a treadmill, perhaps?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:17 PM on November 28, 2009 [18 favorites]


The folks on those forums seem to think that the plane was overloaded, but neither Xinhua nor the BBC are talking about the cargo headed from Shanghai to Kyrgyzstan.

Pure speculation, but why would China ship heavy equipment to a corrupt-but-very-nationalist state with minor border conflicts with all of its -stan neighbors?
posted by infinitewindow at 1:26 PM on November 28, 2009


Briton linked to Congo war crimes; Sunday Times Sept 2006
posted by adamvasco at 1:37 PM on November 28, 2009


1) Nefarious billionaire *check*
2) Shadowy Organization *check*
3) Arms smuggling *check*
4) Conflict diamonds *check*
5) Plot to overthrow a government *check*
6) British government involvement *check*

*cue theme music*
posted by Avenger at 1:43 PM on November 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wait, Avenger, we also need an implausibly-named incredibly-attractive female involved.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


The folks on those forums seem to think that the plane was overloaded, but neither Xinhua nor the BBC are talking about the cargo headed from Shanghai to Kyrgyzstan.

I thought about mentioning that but it seems this specific flight was carrying just 31 tonnes of freight while the MD-11F is certified for something north of 80 tonnes. (the folks on pprune say this specific version has a certification of I believe 81T while some others have up to 88T.) that would indicate the aircraft wasn't overloaded. still... a locked brake, a late rejected takeoff, a tailstrike, a loss of thrust, a fire, shifted cargo, there are so many options. I don't know what happened and thus I avoided speculation.

Lack of lift.
smartass. I think it became airborne briefly. someone mentioned it might have suffered a massive tailstrike, which could have thrust the nose down. who knows. the MD-11 is not a forgiving aircraft.
posted by krautland at 2:05 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pure speculation, but why would China ship heavy equipment to a corrupt-but-very-nationalist state with minor border conflicts with all of its -stan neighbors?
As well as the more obvious trade links, China and Kyrgyzstan are both in the SCO and hence cooperating on strategic matters of mutual concern.
posted by Abiezer at 2:24 PM on November 28, 2009


Wait, Avenger, we also need an implausibly-named incredibly-attractive female involved.

Apparently Smith's Russian mobster friend "was arrested in an Italian police raid on a hotel in northern Italy where he was found with 58 grams of cocaine, four prostitutes and $500,000 worth of African diamonds. Police also discovered a green briefcase stuffed with 1,500 pages of documents detailing numerous arms deals, including illegal sales to Liberia and Sierra Leone." (from the "made a fortune" link)

1) Surely one of those Italian hookers had an appropriately silly name (or was actually an undercover agent. or both.)

2) JESUS CHRIST THATS A LOT OF ILLEGAL STUFF AT ONCE

I mean, really, he couldn't ask one of his associates to hold onto SOME of his prostitutes/cocaine/conflict diamonds/briefcase full of illegal documents? He just had to have his diamond-covered-cocaine-fueled-prostitute-orgy WHILE filling out incriminating paperwork?
posted by ScotchRox at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2009 [16 favorites]


I was going to suggest "Ivanna Fuckalot" but apparently this is already the name of a Russian porn star. *waves fist in the general direction of Russia*
posted by Avenger at 2:50 PM on November 28, 2009


Holy shit, can we call for an emergency memetic quarantine, or something like that? It creeps the hell out of me when the world starts to look like a John Le Carre novel even down to the nasty little details.
posted by Iosephus at 3:16 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Earlier this month an Air Zimbabwe flight hit a warthog during takeoff, damaging an engine, wing and landing gear. Two photographers were arrested. Viktor Bout was not believed to be involved.
posted by autopilot at 3:37 PM on November 28, 2009


Avenger: how about a Welsh woman of mystery, Pfut Pfetych, from darkly mysterious Whychwunovyeworderedasammich.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:00 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


2) JESUS CHRIST THATS A LOT OF ILLEGAL STUFF AT ONCE

I mean, really, he couldn't ask one of his associates to hold onto SOME of his prostitutes/cocaine/conflict diamonds/briefcase full of illegal documents? He just had to have his diamond-covered-cocaine-fueled-prostitute-orgy WHILE filling out incriminating paperwork?
posted by ScotchRox at 5:44 PM on 11/28


eh that's like a Wednesday
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:37 PM on November 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


"It is not yet known why the aircraft, an ex Varig MD-11F (pic) operated by an airline called Avient, failed to become airborne"

The front fell off.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:14 PM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pure speculation, but why would China ship heavy equipment to a corrupt-but-very-nationalist state with minor border conflicts with all of its -stan neighbors?

You mean why would someone in china ship heavy equipment to Kyrgyzstan? It's not like everything that happens in China is done by "China". China ships arms everywhere, and we don't know if it was heavy equipment or just lots of AK47s or what.
posted by delmoi at 7:51 PM on November 28, 2009


why would China ship heavy equipment to a corrupt-but-very-nationalist state with minor border conflicts with all of its -stan neighbors?

China is on a collision course with India. I predict a proxy war between them, probably in Africa, by the end of the decade, but perhaps they are looking at aligning with Pakistan in central Asia for the same purpose.

Kyrgyztan is involved in some conflict with Islamists, China may be looking for allies against its own Islamist rebels.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:05 PM on November 28, 2009


The girl? Leggs Akimbo.

Not only a Tom Waits reference, it also has a faintly African sound.

And the movie title? The Man With the Green Suitcase.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:02 AM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Krygyzstan may not have been the final destination for this plane. Shanghai to Africa would need a refueling stop, the MD-11 is not a particularly long range aircraft (as compared to something like a converted 767-200 freighter, a 777 freighter, or a 747-400 freighter). IIRC in range it is more like an A300 freighter, max flight time in the neighborhood of 4.5 to 5 hours.
posted by thewalrus at 12:38 AM on November 29, 2009


> Wait, Avenger, we also need an implausibly-named incredibly-attractive female involved.

Emma Peel?
posted by ardgedee at 5:55 AM on November 29, 2009


the MD-11 is not a particularly long range aircraft
flightplan was to singapore.
posted by krautland at 10:45 AM on November 29, 2009


I live just up the road from there. I'd volunteer to go and have a look but I'm not sure I'd like the consequences...
posted by davidgentle at 3:04 PM on November 29, 2009


krautland's footnote linked to a comment in the relevant airliners.net thread. I can not recommend that site enough when it comes to analysis of late-breaking news involving civil aviation. That crowd is whip smart and quite experienced.
posted by intermod at 7:01 PM on November 29, 2009


That crowd is whip smart and quite experienced.
I disagree with that, which is why I linked to pprune more prominently. a.net is a pretty vitriolic and often downright sexist crowd. I find it often to be decently informed but nowhere near as balanced as pprune, which seems to attract a more mature audience. but if you want to hear a lot of "we vs. them" rhetoric (where them can be passengers or media) and don't mind conspiracy theorists, go ahead.
posted by krautland at 10:30 AM on November 30, 2009


Interesting, thanks!
posted by intermod at 1:55 PM on December 2, 2009


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