A United States Air Force (USAF) C-130J-30 cargo plane left Pyongyang’s Sunan International airport at 04.13am on Saturday for Yokota airbase, a photo and flight data showed the same day, although it remains unclear what purpose the flight served.
It was one of two rare flights captured on an Instagram user’s photo of the departure board at Pyongyang Sunan airport on Saturday morning, the other being flight SAM674 to Tokyo at 16.00, a U.S. Air Force Boeing 757 that will take Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s team to Japan for trilateral consultations.
But the purpose of flight number TREK70 to Yokota – which a flight tracking website showed to be a Lockheed Martin C-130J-30 ‘Super Hercules’ airlifter belonging to the USAF – is unclear.
While the flight was likely linked to the ongoing Pompeo visit, open source data hasn’t previously shown his prior two visits to North Korea being accompanied by a second aircraft in this way.
The unusually early 04.13am departure of the flight means it would have likely left Pyongyang without other passengers seeing the aircraft or any potential cargo being loaded or unloaded, the first scheduled flight on Saturday not leaving until 08.50am.
The flight time also means it’s unlikely the airlifter would have gone to Pyongyang to directly support on-the-ground activities for Pompeo’s trip – for example, to transport VIP vehicles for his use – because his trip continued nearly 12 hours further on Saturday.
In terms of capacity, the stretch-modified C-130J-30 can carry either passengers – up to 128 combat-equipped troops – or cargo – a maximum of eight 463L pallets – according to the Air Force Technology website.
That would likely be sufficient to fly out the remains of prisoners of war (POWs) or those missing in action (MIA) from the Korean War, a step that was a key part of the recent Singapore Summit agreement between the U.S. and North Korea.
While President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un agreed to “commit to recovering POW/MIA remains including the immediate repatriation of those already identified,” nearly four weeks has passed since the summit without any remains being transported back.
In late June, the U.S. Forces Korea moved 100 caskets to the border with North Korea in order to prepare for the return of the remains of those missing since the end of the Korean War.
Yokota Air Base was unavailable for comment when called about the flight movement on Saturday.
Main picture: USAF
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