2003 Boeing 727-223 disappearance
N844AA at Chicago O'Hare Airport in 1989.
|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 red. 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 May 25, 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.
Reports leaked as part of Cablegate indicate that the United States searched for the plane in multiple countries after the event. A Regional Security Officer (RSO) searched for the plane in Sri Lanka without results. A ground search was also conducted by diplomats stationed in Nigeria at multiple airports without findings. The telegram from Nigeria also states that they did not consider managing to land the 727 at one of the major airports without raising suspicion was possible.
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 plane, despite research and interviews with individuals knowledgeable of details surrounding the disappearance.
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- Wright, Tim. "The 727 that Vanished". Retrieved 1 June 2015.