2003 Angola 727 disappearance

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2003 Angola Boeing 727 disappearance
Boeing 727-223 of American Airlines Chicago O'Hare.jpg
N844AA, the aircraft involved, in 1989
Incident
DateMay 25, 2003 (2003-05-25)
SummaryDisappearance; presumed theft, but whereabouts unknown
SiteQuatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola
08°51′30″S 13°13′52″E / 8.85833°S 13.23111°E / -8.85833; 13.23111Coordinates: 08°51′30″S 13°13′52″E / 8.85833°S 13.23111°E / -8.85833; 13.23111
Aircraft
Aircraft typeBoeing 727-223
OperatorAerospace Sales & Leasing (ex. American Airlines)
RegistrationN844AA
Flight originQuatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola
Occupants2 (Unconfirmed)
Missing2

On 25 May 2003, a Boeing 727, registered N844AA, was stolen at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola,[1] prompting a worldwide search by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). No trace of the aircraft has since been found.

Background[edit]

The aircraft involved was a Boeing 727-223 manufactured in 1975 and formerly operated by American Airlines for twenty-five years. Its last owner was reported to be a Miami-based company called Aerospace Sales & Leasing.[2] While on lease to TAAG Angola Airlines, the aircraft had been grounded at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, and sat idle for fourteen months, accruing more than $4 million in unpaid airport fees. It was one of two aircraft at the airport that was in the process of being converted for use by IRS Airlines.[3] The FBI described it as "...unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and red. 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]

Incident[edit]

It is believed that on May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset (likely to be 17:00 local time), two men boarded the aircraft. One of them was American pilot and flight engineer Ben C. Padilla.[5] The other, John M. Mutantu, was a hired mechanic from the Republic of the Congo.[1] Neither man was 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 only seeing 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. The tower officers 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 on land or sea.[1]

Theories[edit]

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 with which Aerospace Sales & Leasing president Maury Joseph, who had examined the plane two weeks before its disappearance, agreed. However, U.S. authorities have suspected that Joseph's past 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] it was subsequently conclusively dismissed by the U.S. Department of State.[13]

Reports made public as part of the United States diplomatic cables leak indicate that the U.S. searched for the aircraft in multiple countries after the event. A Regional Security Officer searched for the aircraft in Sri Lanka without result.[14] A ground search was also conducted by diplomats stationed in Nigeria at multiple airports without finding it.[15] The telegram from Nigeria also stated that the diplomats did not consider likely a landing of the 727 at a major airport, since the aircraft could have been easily identified.

An extensive article published in Air & Space Magazine in September 2010 was also unable to draw any conclusions on the whereabouts or fate of the aircraft, despite research and interviews with individuals knowledgeable of details surrounding the disappearance.[1]

See also[edit]

References[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 2019-11-09. Retrieved 2013-07-15.
  6. ^ "African hunt for stolen Boeing". BBC News. June 19, 2003. Archived from the original on September 18, 2010. Retrieved May 19, 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. August 15, 2003. Archived from the original on August 10, 2007. Retrieved November 15, 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. ^ "Counterterrorism". qsl.net. Archived from the original on 29 March 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  14. ^ "MISSING 727". 2003-08-26.
  15. ^ "NIGERIA: NO SIGN OF MISSING 727". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2015-06-01.