2003 Boeing 727-223 disappearance
N844AA at Chicago O'Hare Airport, 14 years before the incident
|Date||May 25, 2003|
|Site||Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola
|Aircraft type||Boeing 727-223|
|Operator||Aerospace Sales & Leasing|
The plane (serial number 20985) was manufactured in 1975 and formerly owned by American Airlines. Its last owner was reported to be Miami-based company Aerospace Sales & Leasing. While on lease to TAAG Angola Airlines it had been grounded and sat idle at Luanda for 14 months, accruing more than $4 million in backdated airport fees, and was one of two at Quatro de Fevereiro in the process of being converted for use by IRS Airlines. The FBI described it as "...unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and blue. The plane was formerly in the air fleet of a major airline, but all of the passenger seats have been removed. It is outfitted to carry diesel fuel."
Shortly before sunset on 25 May, two men are believed to have boarded the plane, one of them being American pilot and flight engineer Ben Charles Padilla. The other was a hired mechanic from the Republic of the Congo. Neither man was certified to fly the Boeing 727, which normally requires three aircrew. Both men had been working with Angolan mechanics to get the plane flight-ready. Padilla is believed by U.S. authorities to have been at the controls.
The aircraft began taxiing without communicating with the control tower. It maneuvered erratically and entered a runway without clearance. The tower tried to make contact, but there was no response, and the tracking transponder was turned off. With its lights off, the aircraft took off, heading southwest over the Atlantic Ocean. Neither the plane nor the two men have been seen since.
Many theories exist about what happened to the plane.
Padilla's sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper that her family suspects that he was flying the aircraft and fear that he subsequently crashed somewhere in Africa or is being held against his will.
In July 2003 a possible sighting of the missing plane was reported in Conakry, Guinea, but this has been conclusively dismissed by the US Department of State. (Another ex-American Airlines 727 with registration number N862AA was re-registered in Guinea as 3X-GDO and based there until it was destroyed in the UTA Flight 141 accident at Cadjehoun Airport in Cotonou, Benin.)
- List of aerial disappearances
- Avion Pirata
- Varig Flight 967
- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
- Flying Tiger Line Flight 739
- Wright, Tim (September 2010). "The 727 that Vanished". airspacemag.com. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
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- Mueller, Robert S. (25 May 2003). "FBI Seeking Information - Ben Charles Padilla". fbi.gov. Archived from the original on 10 Mar 2006. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
- "The Charley Project: Ben Charles Padilla Jr". charleyproject.org. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
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- "Missing jet linked to terrorism". news24.com. 23 June 2003. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
- "Into thin air". The Sydney Morning Herald. August 15, 2003.