2003 Angola Boeing 727 disappearance

Coordinates: 08°51′30″S 13°13′52″E / 8.85833°S 13.23111°E / -8.85833; 13.23111
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2003 Angola Boeing 727 disappearance
A Boeing 727, similar to the aircraft involved in the theft
Date25 May 2003 (2003-05-25)
SummaryDisappearance; presumed theft, but whereabouts unknown
SiteQuatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Luanda, Angola
08°51′30″S 13°13′52″E / 8.85833°S 13.23111°E / -8.85833; 13.23111
Aircraft typeBoeing 727-223
OperatorAerospace Sales & Leasing
Flight originQuatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola
Occupants2 (Unconfirmed)

On 25 May 2003, a Boeing 727-223 airliner, registered N844AA, was stolen at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, Angola,[1] prompting a worldwide search by law enforcement intelligence agencies in the United States. No trace of the aircraft has been found.


The incident aircraft was a Boeing 727-223 airliner, manufactured in 1975 and operated by American Airlines for 25 years until 2000. Its last owner was reported to be a Miami-based company called Aerospace Sales & Leasing.[2] The aircraft had been grounded at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in March 2002 and sat idle for fourteen months, accruing more than US$4 million in unpaid airport fees. It was one of two aircraft at the airport that were in the process of being converted for use by Nigerian IRS Airlines.[3]

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) described the aircraft as "...unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and blue. The [aircraft] 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."[4]


The approximate range of the 727 on the day it disappeared

On 25 May 2003, shortly before sunset (likely to be 17:00 WAT), it is believed that two men—Ben C. Padilla and John M. Mutantu—boarded the aircraft. Padilla was a pilot and flight engineer from the United States,[5] while Mutantu was a hired mechanic from the Republic of the Congo.[1] Neither of the men were certified to fly a Boeing 727 and needed an additional crew member to fly the aircraft. Padilla is believed by U.S. authorities to have been at the controls.[6] An airport employee reported seeing only one person on board the aircraft at the time;[7] other airport officials stated that two men had boarded the aircraft before the incident.[8][9]

The aircraft began taxiing without communicating with the control tower. It maneuvered erratically and entered a runway without clearance. Air traffic controllers tried to make contact, but there was no response. With no lights, the aircraft took off, heading southwest over the Atlantic Ocean before disappearing.[1] Before the incident, the aircraft was filled with 53,000 litres (14,000 US gal) of fuel, giving it a range of about 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi; 1,300 nmi).[9] Neither the aircraft nor the two men have been seen since, and no debris from the aircraft has been found.[1]


Padilla's sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 2004 that her family suspected that he had been flying the aircraft and feared that he subsequently crashed somewhere in Africa or was being held against his will,[10] a theory shared by Aerospace Sales & Leasing president Maury Joseph, who had examined the plane two weeks before its disappearance. However, U.S. authorities suspected that Joseph's history of accounting fraud played a part, believing that the plane's theft was either caused by a business feud or resulted from a scam.[5]

In July 2003, a possible sighting of the missing aircraft was reported in Conakry, Guinea,[11][12][13] but was conclusively dismissed by the U.S. State Department.[14]

An extensive article published in Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine in September 2010 was unable to draw any conclusions on the fate of the aircraft, despite research and interviews with persons knowledgeable of details surrounding the disappearance.[clarification needed][1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wright, Tim (September 2010). "The 727 that Vanished". www.airspacemag.com. Air & Space Magazine. Archived from the original on 11 May 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2014.
  2. ^ "Aircraft N844AA Profile". airport-data.com. Archived from the original on 24 February 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  3. ^ Cederholm, Justin (19 January 2002). "N843AA and N844AA at Luanda". airliners.net. Archived from the original on 10 March 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  4. ^ Mueller, Robert S. (25 May 2003). "FBI Seeking Information – Ben Charles Padilla". fbi.gov. Archived from the original on 10 March 2006. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b Good, Meaghan Elizabeth. "Ben Charles Padilla Jr". www.charleyproject.org. The Charley Project. Archived from the original on 9 November 2019. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  6. ^ "African hunt for stolen Boeing". BBC News. 19 June 2003. Archived from the original on 18 September 2010. Retrieved 19 May 2010.
  7. ^ "Plane disappears after mystery take-off". abc.net.au. 29 May 2003. Archived from the original on 21 February 2011. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  8. ^ "Missing jet linked to terrorism". news24.com. 23 June 2003. Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Into thin air". The Sydney Morning Herald. 15 August 2003. Archived from the original on 10 August 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  10. ^ Das, Saurabh (2 January 2004). "Questions arise over W. Africa jet crash". USA Today. Archived from the original on 13 September 2013. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  11. ^ "Missing plane turns up in Guinea". scotsman.com. 7 July 2003. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  12. ^ "Mystery Boeing briefly resurfaces after disappearance". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 July 2003. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2007.
  13. ^ "Plane in terrorism scare turns up sporting a respray". TheGuardian.com. 7 July 2003.
  14. ^ "Counterterrorism". qsl.net. Archived from the original on 29 March 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.