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Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:21 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
The 727 that Vanished
A case pursued by the FBI, the CIA, the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security, CENTCOM, and the sister of Ben Padilla.
By Tim Wright
Air & Space Magazine, September 01, 2010
The 727 that Vanished
Seven years after her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland is trying to persuade the FBI to re-open his case. She believes she has the “new information” agents told her they require. But she suspects that the agency already has more information than agents will admit to.
Kirkland’s brother, Ben Charles Padilla, a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot, disappeared while working in the Angolan capital, Luanda, for Florida-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing. On May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset, Padilla boarded the company’s Boeing 727-223, tail number N844AA. With him was a helper he had recently hired, John Mikel Mutantu, from the Republic of the Congo. The two had been working with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status so they could reclaim it from a business deal gone bad, but neither could fly it. Mutantu was not a pilot, and Padilla had only a private pilot’s license. A 727 ordinarily requires three trained aircrew.
According to press reports, the aircraft began taxiing with no communication between the crew and the tower; maneuvering erratically, it entered a runway without clearance. With its lights off and its transponder not transmitting, 844AA took off to the southwest, and headed out over the Atlantic Ocean. The 727 and the two men have not been seen since.
Who was flying 844AA? Had something happened to make Padilla take that desperate chance? Or was someone waiting inside the airplane? Leased to deliver diesel fuel to diamond mines, the 727 carried 10 500-gallon fuel tanks and a few passenger seats in its cabin. Less than two years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 727’s freakish departure triggered a frantic search by U.S. security organizations for what intelligence sources said could have been a flying bomb.
Retired U.S. Marine General Mastin Robeson, commander of U.S. forces in the Horn of Africa when 844AA went missing, says word of the 727 “came up through the intelligence network.” According to Robeson, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) considered moving U.S. fighter aircraft to Djibouti on the Red Sea coast, where the Combined Joint Task Force shares a base with the French military. Robeson continues: “It was never [clear] whether it was stolen for insurance purposes…by the owners, or whether it was stolen with the intent to make it available to unsavory characters, or whether it was a deliberate concerted terrorist attempt. There was speculation of all three.”
Speculation that the theft of 844AA posed a terrorist threat ended, though it’s unclear why. Perhaps National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency technicians saw signs of a crash in satellite imagery—debris or an oil slick in the Atlantic, for example—or evidence that a large aircraft had landed on one of a half-dozen unpaved, 8,000-foot runways in the Congo, north of Angola. Agency spokesperson Susan Meisner would not comment, saying that the NGIA was not the lead agency in the case. (A CIA spokesperson also declined comment, as did a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security. FBI agents also refused comment, citing national security concerns.) Perhaps the speculation ended more gradually, after weeks without clues or sightings stretched into months. The disturbed hornet’s nest of a global security alert—the searches, bulletins, and interrogations—quieted, and in 2005, the FBI closed its case. I have filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the CIA and FBI and have followed in at least some of the FBI’s footsteps, interviewing the people who flew 844AA to Angola and worked with it there, hoping to understand how a 727 could just disappear.
“IT REALLY WAS in beautiful condition,” Keith Irwin says of the airliner he acquired in Miami in February 2002. Irwin, 57, a South African entrepreneur who ran a series of information technology companies and, until 2000, a small tourist airline with flights from South Africa to Mozambique, had come to Miami to pick up a different aircraft altogether. Representing a joint venture with a South African company called Cargo Air Transport Systems, Irwin had arranged to lease a 727 and two flight crews—pilot, first officer, and flight engineer—for a year. The air transport company had signed a contract to supply fuel to diamond mines in Angola, where a long civil war had made transporting goods by road almost impossible. The 727, therefore, was to have been delivered with fuel tanks installed in the cabin. The joint venture was backed by a single investor, who had deposited $450,000 in a U.S. bank. Irwin’s job was to manage the flight operations, but the deal for the airplane fell through. Irwin ended up with fuel tanks and no airplane.
That failure stranded six crewmen who had assembled in Miami. “The guys then were desperate for work,” says Irwin. “Most of those guys had not flown in a long time because of the 9/11 story. I said, ‘Look, I can take you on if we can find another aircraft.’ ” And Irwin met Maury Joseph, president of Aerospace Sales and Leasing, Inc. Joseph owned three 727s that had recently been retired by American Airlines. “All three aircraft were almost in mint condition,” says Irwin. “American Airlines had a very good maintenance program.”
New deal: Joseph sold 844AA to Irwin for $1 million and change. According to his records, he received a down payment of $125,000, and says he stipulated that the balance be paid within 30 days. He agreed to remove the passenger seats from the cabin and to allow Irwin to take the airliner to Africa. Irwin says he cannot remember the details of the agreement, but recalled it to be a lease arrangement. In any case, the joint venture made only two payments and defaulted.
Though the two men now differ over the terms of the contract, they agree on one detail: As a condition of the agreement, Irwin was required to take along one of Joseph’s employees, Mike Gabriel, whose job was to make sure that the deal was concluded. “I gave Mike $10,000 and told him to fly with them,” says Joseph. “Stay with the plane till you get the money, and then come on home, and if not, bring the plane home.”
On February 28, 2002, with most of the passenger seats removed and the 10 fuel tanks loaded, 844AA, still in the livery of American Airlines, with a blue stripe down the side and an AA logo fading on its tail, took off for Africa.
Because Irwin’s partners had not arranged a landing permit, it took two weeks for the crew to make their way to Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, where they arrived on March 14. Irwin, who had not worked in Angola before, realized immediately that the deal was in trouble. The company hiring his partners for deliveries, Kuwachi Dundo, was supposed to pay $220,000 when the airplane and crew landed, but instead the company’s representative made excuses. (Irwin lost almost $140,000 in the first deal and had burned through the rest of the $450,000 by March.)
The crew endured accommodations in a dismal apartment without electricity or drinkable water, near an open sewer. (Gabriel and Irwin didn’t stay with the crew; they had rented an apartment in the back of a house owned by an Angolan air force general.) The only one of the men not troubled by the circumstances they found in Angola was Mike Gabriel. Gabriel, a dealer in aircraft parts and engines, had spent a considerable amount of time in West Africa, and was accustomed to the AK-47s the men saw everywhere, including stacked up behind the bar of a club they frequented. Most worrisome to the crew was that they were required to surrender their passports on arrival. Irwin explains that Kuwachi needed the passports to obtain Angolan licenses for the pilots and flight engineers.
“I was scared to death. I really thought I was going to die,” says Art Powell, one of the flight engineers with the project. Powell had been to Angola before and had spent a year working in Nairobi, Kenya, but this experience was different. He felt intimidated by the people who had hired the crew for the fuel-delivery job. His anxiety was intensified by the presence of a local “helper” who toted an AK-47. The helper was a guard whom Mike Gabriel says he hired because the crew repeatedly voiced concerns about safety.
When Kuwachi got wind of the crews’ unrest (several crew members have admitted that they were planning to steal the aircraft to escape to South Africa or return to the States), the company refused to return the passports. Irwin and members of the crew went to the U.S. Embassy; only then were the passports returned.
By Angolan regulations, Irwin says, 844AA was controlled by the clients who hired it. Prohibited from flying the aircraft out of the country, Irwin booked airline seats and flew the crew members to South Africa. From there, two of the men immediately flew home to the United States. One says he is still owed $17,000. The other four crewmen, still hoping for the money they’d been promised, stayed on.
By April, Irwin was extricating himself from the deal made by Cargo Air Transport Systems and had found a new backer, an Angolan who arranged deliveries for a different client. Irwin and the remaining crew returned to Luanda and began flying the shipments for the new company. Mike Gabriel placed the total number of flights made at 17.
“It’s the most dangerous flying in the world,” says a crewman who asked that his name be withheld because he fears for his career. A U.S. Air Force veteran, he likened the deliveries to flying into a combat zone. When they approached the airfields, the crew tried to stay at an altitude above small-arms fire for as long as possible, then spiraled down to land.
“I’ve been a [flight deck crew member] for 30 years,” he says. “For me, it was an opportunity to make a couple of bucks... and when everything started falling apart, I probably hung on twice as long as common sense dictated. But I had too much invested at that point to bail out.”
Many of the runways, says Mike Gabriel, aren’t paved and aren’t like the ones U.S. crews are accustomed to. “On some, you land uphill, then go downhill, then uphill again,” he says.
At one airstrip, the anonymous crewman says, just before 844AA arrived, a 727 flying for a competing company crashed on landing and skidded off the runway. Although the crew survived, he says, some local residents were killed. “We gave [the other flight crew] a lift out of there but not before going over to their airplane and stealing some parts that we needed. That’s when I decided it was time to go home.”
Before he left, he says, a “big African showed up with a briefcase full of hundred-dollar bills. It was payday.” Besides paying the crew, the money was supposed to pay off accumulated airport fees and fuel costs.
“After that,” the crewman says, “I created a family emergency…. I said, ‘My mother is sick.’ ” He promised he’d return in two weeks and left. “I had no intentions of going back, of course. I didn’t get anywhere near full pay, but I got enough that I could pay my bills and make it not completely worthless.”
By the end of April, all of the Americans except Mike Gabriel had left.
Irwin hired a local crew and continued to deliver fuel to the mines, but he was ready to leave too. The civil war in Angola had ended. Competition among fuel haulers, Irwin says, had intensified, and he was growing more uncomfortable with the delivery deals. His partners were claiming part ownership of the aircraft, but Maury Joseph had not been paid. Joseph, meanwhile, sent a crew to swap an engine from the 727. Finally, Irwin says, he was being followed—by a local man named Antonio, who, Irwin believes, was working for one of his partners. “I would turn around,” Irwin says, “and spot Antonio watching me from a car.”
Irwin began wedging a chair under the door handle of his hotel room “just like you see in the movies.” One night, he heard a key card slide into the slot on the door. The lock released. “I started yelling and whoever it was ran,” he says. The hotel security guards questioned the night clerk and learned that he had accepted a bribe to provide the key card. Irwin left the country the next day and didn’t go back.
Maury Joseph fired Mike Gabriel some time that spring. “He kept convincing me that next week, next month…,” Joseph says, referring to the outstanding balance owed on the airplane.
In May 2002, the only part of the original 844AA project left at the Luanda airport was 844AA.
THE SON OF A FLORIDA MILLWRIGHT, Ben Charles Padilla Jr. was always mechanically gifted, says sister Benita Padilla-Kirkland, and from the time he was a boy, he loved airplanes. In his mid-20s he learned to fly and became certified as an airframe-and-powerplant mechanic. He lived in south Florida with two children, one his own, and a fiancée of 15 years. (Efforts to contact her were unsuccessful.) Though the two weren’t married, Padilla gave her power of attorney in his absence and made her the executor of his estate, according to Padilla-Kirkland, and left her almost everything in his will.
“He certainly knew the airplane,” says Maury Joseph. Padilla was a freelancer, who had worked for Joseph on two jobs before traveling to Angola to repossess 844AA. Padilla had worked extensively in Africa. He helped Joseph ferry a 727 to Nigeria for a sale and during the negotiations stayed to explain the aircraft systems. “If you said, ‘Go to Cambodia and do this’ or ‘Go to Indonesia and do this’ or ‘Go to South America and do this’ he would do it. [When in Nigeria] I was with Ben daily for a month or more,” says Joseph. “You become fairly close to somebody when you’re with them day and night.” Joseph trusted him.
But another employer formed a different opinion. Jeff Swain, who works near Miami in international aircraft sales and leasing, had hired Padilla in the late 1990s for an airline he was operating in Indonesia—and fired him. “We had certain standards of conduct we expected from flight engineers,” Swain says, adding, when pressed, “He was too involved in chasing the local girls. It was an unstructured environment, and he just went bad.” Swain says that after Padilla was fired, he stayed on in Indonesia for two months and racked up a $10,000 bill that he told the hotel the airline would pay. “We finally had him deported,” says Swain.
Padilla once showed Swain a photograph of a woman with small children and told him it was his wife in Mozambique, but Swain says, “I never believed it was real. Ben was always marveling everyone with his bullshit stories.” One of Padilla’s friends also saw a photograph of a wife, but insists that she lived in Tanzania. Another acquaintance was told that Padilla had a wife in Indonesia.
Benita Padilla-Kirkland says she’s heard the stories, but believes her brother would have told her if he’d had another family. She doesn’t doubt the relationships, but is convinced that Padilla was helping to support people he’d befriended. “There might have been more than one of those situations,” she says.
WHAT IN FEBRUARY 2002 had been a retired airliner in excellent condition had by fall become a junker worth only the price of its engines. And Maury Joseph found a buyer for them: Jeff Swain. Swain says that Irwin and the crews had ruined the airplane. “It would never be of any value again,” he says. “You can’t put water tanks full of fuel in an airplane and expect it to be good. Totally stupid. But it had really good engines on it—maybe 1,000 cycles since new.”
In November 2002, Joseph and Ben Padilla flew to Nigeria to deliver a 727, and Joseph hired Padilla to fly to Angola the following April to pay the outstanding fines and hire mechanics to return the 727 to service. “If [the company that contracted for fuel deliveries] wasn’t paying Mr. Irwin, you can assume he wasn’t paying anybody,” says Joseph. “He probably hadn’t paid the fuel bill. He didn’t pay the navigation fees, the landing fees, and certainly wasn’t paying the parking fees at the airport. So all of those became things that we had to resolve and I had to pay all those.”
Padilla worked with Air Gemini, a Luanda-based airline that operated a repair station. The return-to-service process was progressing steadily, according to Joseph, and in May 2003, acting as Joseph’s agent, Padilla hired a pilot and copilot from Air Gemini to help him deliver the aircraft to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Joseph was waiting with his new customer. A day or two before the aircraft was to leave Luanda, Padilla made plans with Air Gemini to take the aircraft from the company hangar out to the main runway, where he intended to run the three engines up to full power for a systems check.
Late in the morning on May 26, when Joseph and Swain were expecting 844AA to land, Joseph took a call from an Air Gemini employee, who demanded to know why another crew had flown the airplane out of Luanda. “He was kind of hard on me,” Joseph says. After the shock wore off, he telephoned the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to report the disappearance, then called his wife back in Florida to tell her to call the FBI. From Washington, D.C., the Department of State, notified by the U.S. Embassy in Angola, sent a message to every American embassy in Africa: Alert aviation officials that an airliner has been stolen, and call every airport with a runway long enough to handle a 727.
For the U.S. government, fraud was one theory that could explain the aircraft’s disappearance. “Part of the intelligence was that the airplane was in a bad state of repair,” says General Robeson. “That was one of the speculations, that it was an insurance fraud situation. You know, ‘Oops, my plane was hijacked/stolen by terrorists and now I can do an insurance claim on it.’ So, that was probably as valid of an explanation when all was said and done as anything. But we just left it as an unknown.”
Among intelligence officials, the suspicions of fraud may have been aroused by knowledge of an incident in Maury Joseph’s past. During the 1990s, Joseph was CEO of a cargo airline named Florida West (which later went bankrupt). The Securities and Exchange Commission charged him in a civil case with falsifying financial statements and defrauding investors. The court imposed a fine and barred Joseph from acting as an officer in a publicly held company.
But Joseph, when contacted by the FBI, volunteered to take a lie-detector test, and Swain, who was there when Joseph took the call from Air Gemini, is certain that Joseph had nothing to do with the airplane’s disappearance. “Look, nobody was more amazed by this situation than Maury,” Swain says. He describes Joseph as utterly confused by the information that the airplane was gone.
The suspicion that Ben Padilla could have played any part in an insurance fraud angers his younger brother. “If anybody would say to me that my brother was involved with this,” says Joe Padilla, his voice tightening, “they’re full of it. ’Cuz I know my brother. He’s not gonna do nothing crooked. I know that for a fact.” He is convinced that more than one person was already on board, waiting, and that they forcibly took the aircraft, and killed Ben and John Mutantu.
“I keep hoping against hope that maybe he’s tucked away somewhere,” says Benita Padilla-Kirkland. The new information she passed along to the FBI was a possible sighting of the aircraft, one of many reported over the years.
Mike Gabriel believes the airplane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean soon after takeoff. One crew member from the fuel delivery operation thinks the Angolan air force shot it down with a missile. A Luandan pilot says the word there is that the aircraft went north and vanished near Kinshasa, Congo. One of Ben Padilla’s friends says the airplane was disassembled for parts in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Tanzania’s western border.
Picking through the fragments of 844AA’s history, I found a story of broken deals, disappointments, and betrayals, but no real clues to the aircraft’s destination that day in 2003. We may never know for sure where it went. It is the largest aircraft ever to have disappeared without a trace.
Tim Wright is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia.
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Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:22 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
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Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:23 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
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Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:26 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Subject: Missing Boeing 727 Plane from Angola on May 25 2003. Yes, I am Joseph B. Padilla, SR. I live in Pensacola, Florida – U.S.A. I am the Brother of Ben Charles Padilla Jr. He is suspected to be the Pilot of the Missing Boeing 727 Plane that left the Airport in Angola on May 25 2003. I am tring to reach news organizations to help me locate anyone that has seen or heard anything about this missing plane or my brother.
I appeared on ABC’s , Good Morning Amercia alone with my Sister Benita Padilla-Kirkland on June 19 2003 in hopes to get the story out and to Locate my brother.
We both also appeared on CNN’s Morning show, American Morning on June 24 2003.
I have alot of information about the dissapearance of the plane and my brother.
You can contact me at : 850-944-9688 or either by e-mail –
FBI and State Department in Washington, D.C. and all they are willing to tell me is that they have not found my brother nor the plane. So, I am tring to search for any information that I can get thru news organizations.
I find alot of stories on the internet and try to get any of the news organizations to run this story. I also include a couple of pictures of my brother so incase anyone knows anything or has seen him before, to please contact me. I would like to include my e-mail address and phone number incase some one reads or sees this that they can contact me.
My phone number is, 850-944-9688
My e-mail address is, Download as PDF (ideal for printing).
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:28 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Ben Charles Padilla Jr.
Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance
Missing Since: May 25, 2003 from Luanda, Angola
Classification: Endangered Missing
Age: 50 years old
Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes.
Details of Disappearance
Padilla, a United States citizen from Pensacola, Florida, was overseeing rebuilding work on a Boeing 727 airplane at the DeFevereiro International Airport in Angola in 2003. The plane had been there for two years. Padilla had been working there for two months; his duties included supervising the team of mechanics. He was also going to hire a pilot and co-pilot once the plane was in flyable condition. Padilla is a licensed aircraft mechanic, flight engineer, and pilot of small airplanes, but he is not licensed to fly a 727 and has never flown a plane that large. He was going to be the flight engineer when it took to the air. The company that owned the plane was going to repossess it from Air Angola, which had failed to make its lease payments, and fly it to South Africa.
Maury Joseph, the president Aerospace Sales & Leasing Co. which owns the plane, visited the site two weeks before Padilla disappeared to see how things were going. He gave Padilla $43,000 to pay holding fees to the airport. Padilla paid the fees and faxed the receipt to Joseph.
On May 25, 2003, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the 727 took off without clearance or a flight plan, and has not been seen since. A photograph of a plane similar to the missing one is posted below this case summary. It is described as a 28-year-old 200 series 727 with a tail number of N844AA, and a serial number of 20985, unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and blue. The plane was formerly in the American Airlines passenger air fleet, but all of the passenger seats have been removed and replaced with fuel containers. The plane is outfitted to carry diesel fuel and had taken on 14,000 gallons of A-1 jet fuel shortly before it departed. Padilla disappeared at the same time as the plane and is believed to have been on it when it took off. John Mikel Mutantu, another crew member from the Congo, is also believed to have been on the plane. Photographs and vital statistics for Mutantu are unavailable.
The plane may have originally been headed in the direction of Burkina Faso. Its last radio contact was to ask for landing permission in the Seychelles Islands, which are in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. The plane never actually attempted to land there.
Padilla's brother believes that Padilla did not leave voluntarily and that the plane may have been hijacked by terrorists. He claims that he and Padilla discussed the possibility that this might happen and Padilla said he would crash the plane rather than fly it anywhere against his will. Based on his memory of this conversation, Padilla's brother believes he was either killed or is being held prisoner somewhere. Joseph agrees with this theory; he does not think Padilla stole the plane either. He does not have a history of criminal behavior. It is worth noting, however, that Joseph himself has been convicted of forging documents and defrauding investors by exaggerating the profits of another company he ran.
American authorities believe that the plane was stolen as part of a financial scam or possibly a business dispute. Three American agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA) the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), are all looking for Padilla, Mutantu, and the plane. England and several African nations are also searching for them. In the summer of 2003 a plane was found in New Guinea and rumors spread that it was the missing 727, but this turned out not to be the case.
Padilla and Mutantu's cases remain unsolved; they and the plane are still missing. The circumstances surrounding their disappearances are unclear. Padilla disappeared in Africa, but the Charley Project is profiling him because of his United States citizenship.
Above: The missing airplane
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
America One & Patriot Special Shape Hot Air Balloons
Freedom of Thought
The Washington Post
The Search for a Missing 727 Goes On
World News Bulletin
Charley Project Home
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Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:29 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Brother Claims Misconceptions Reported…
Over the last few months AVweb has reported on the strange disappearance of an African-based Boeing 727, reportedly modified to serve as an air tanker. While some subsequent reports speculated the jet had been found sporting a new paint job in Guinea, the actual location of the aircraft has never been determined. Joseph Padilla, the younger brother of the man assigned to arrange flight of the aircraft out of Angola, contacted AVweb to help clear his brother’s name and hopefully gather clues to find him alive. Here is what we know: Ben Charles Padilla Jr., was sent by Miami-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing (which did not return calls last week) to repossess a Boeing 727 from Air Angola. Padilla spent two months in Angola overseeing the work needed to return the aircraft to airworthy condition. While he is a licensed pilot, mechanic and flight engineer, Padilla was tasked with hiring a pilot and co-pilot to fly the jet to South Africa only when it was determined to be in flyable condition. On May 25, Padilla was scheduled to perform a run-up of the 727’s engines and systems and then return to the ramp. However, the aircraft departed the airport and has not been seen since.
…Many Theories, Few Clues…
Joseph Padilla, the missing pilot’s brother, told AVweb the trail of clues has gone somewhat cold. However, Padilla told AVweb the FBI investigated and interviewed a pilot who claimed to have overheard a conversation by an aircraft mechanic that detailed the location of the jet. The mechanic in Beirut, according to Padilla, said the aircraft was located inside a hangar and would be used for an aerial attack against the Israeli government. The federal government is still investigating. Padilla says the government hasn’t told him much but his U.S. State Department contact assured him his brother was not viewed as a person who would intentionally steal the aircraft. Unfortunately, Padilla claims not all media outlets
have followed that assumption, with some even suggesting that Ben Charles Padilla is behind the disappearance of the aircraft. Another disturbing fact for Joseph Padilla concerns the possible plots linked to this aircraft’s disappearance.
…Looking for Answers
Joseph Padilla hopes to find some additional clues to piece this disturbing mystery together. While his hopes are high, he understands the gravity of the situation. Right before the jet departed, his brother was seen boarding the aircraft with a Congolese mechanic. As the aircraft taxied to the runway, several witnesses reported seeing the jet performing "crazy ground maneuvers" as it approached the runway. Padilla fears his brother was fighting for control of the aircraft and possibly for his life as well. Mr. Padilla requests that anyone with information that could help solve this mystery contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 850-944-9688.
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:39 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
U.S. intelligence officials are searching for a Boeing 727 passenger jet that mysteriously disappeared over Africa three weeks ago. Rogue Missile?
Intensive Search Under Way for Airliner Missing for Nearly a Month
By Pierre Thomas
June 10 — The U.S. government has secretly launched an intensive campaign to find a Boeing 727 passenger jet that mysteriously disappeared in Africa three weeks ago, sources told ABCNEWS.
Intelligence agencies have used satellites to try to locate the plane, the CIA is working its human sources in Africa, and embassies in Africa have been informed of the disappearance and asked to provide any information they may come across, sources said.
The plane's status is discussed every morning in meetings at various intelligence agencies and congressional intelligence committees. A number of government officials told ABCNEWS everyone is frustrated.
"When an aircraft of this size has been missing for so long it does raise some questions as to where it is and what it's being used for," said Chris Yates, editor of the London-based specialist publication Jane's Civil Aviation Security.
The Boeing 727 is 153 feet long and weighs 191,000 pounds.
The plane disappeared out of Angola on May 25. But a government official says the Angolans do not know whether it was bound for Burkina Faso, South Africa, Libya or Nigeria. It's also not clear how many people were on board.
Some U.S. officials believe the plane may have been stolen to run drugs or guns. Others suspect it may have been crashed for insurance money.
American officials have so far turned up no evidence the disappearance is related to terrorism, but no one knows for certain, but the plane's disappearance raises some troubling security questions.
"It's extraordinarily troubling that you can literally disappear off the face of the Earth once you are airborne and fly across a continent like Africa," Yates said.
Other issues that officials cite include:
The lack of security at many African and Third World airports.
The limited oversight of flights in some African countries. Preliminary research shows some countries don't require flight plans.
The security of the international aviation market. Could this plane resurface in legitimate aviation without anyone knowing, or change hands on the black market? How secure are we when an airliner can go unaccounted for?
The most worrying possibility is that the plane might be used as a flying missile against a U.S. target in the manner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"An aircraft could be either stolen or hijacked overseas, fly to the U.S., on schedule, and it wouldn't be seen on FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] radar, if it didn't want to be seen, until the very last minute," said Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar.
The chance of that happening is slim, Clarke said. "The government believes the plane would not have enough fuel to reach the U.S."
But that doesn't rule out an attack on a U.S. embassy or facility overseas in Africa — making U.S. officials no less intent on finding the missing airliner.
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:40 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Mysterious Disappearance of Boeing 727 and Pilot Remains Unsolved
By Adrienne Mand
April 19 — Ben Charles Padilla, an aircraft mechanic, flight engineer and cargo pilot, traveled the world plying his trade for various private companies.
He'd often keep in touch with family members from faraway locales, so it was no surprise in May 2003 when he replied to an e-mail about his mother having a heart attack with news that he was in Africa refurbishing a plane and would contact her as soon as he could.
His family has not heard from him since, and the FBI believes the 51-year-old was aboard a Boeing 727 that took off without authorization from an airport in Angola on May 25 and promptly vanished. At the time, U.S. officials told ABCNEWS they suspected the plane was stolen to run drugs or guns, and some theorized it was crashed for insurance money.
Though there was fear that the former passenger plane, which the FBI says was reconfigured to carry diesel fuel, could be in the hands of terrorists eyeing a Sept. 11-style attack, there was no evidence to link it to terrorism.
The incident touched off an intensive investigation by U.S. intelligence agencies that continues nearly a year later. The plane and Padilla remain unaccounted for — and the mysterious circumstances around their disappearance leave many unanswered questions.
How could a plane vanish? Who has it now? And what happened to Padilla, who was no stranger to assignments like the one that took him to Angola?
Waiting for a Break
"It's been almost a year and I know really no more now than I did in the beginning," said Joseph Padilla of Pensacola, Fla., younger brother of the missing man. Family members are baffled by his disappearance but maintain Ben Padilla would not knowingly have been involved in any illegal activities.
Joseph Padilla suspects there may have been some sort of dispute of ownership between the company that hired his brother and someone else, and that Ben got caught in the middle.
Joseph Padilla stays in contact with the FBI and State Department for updates on the case and provides them with leads from reporters and his own research.
There have been glimmers of hope for a breakthrough — a crash in Benin at Christmastime, a tip that the plane had been spotted in Guinea — but investigators have told him they were not the missing plane.
"[The investigation] is still ongoing," said FBI Special Agent Jeff Westcott. "We're investigating possibilities. Every now and then a lead will come in. The FBI, working with our agents overseas, will aggressively pursue that." But so far, he said, the leads "haven't amounted to anything."
The agency is considering any scenario, including terrorism, but "we really don't speculate," said Westcott. "It's a concern — I wouldn't really characterize it beyond that."
The State Department, which is in charge of locating missing persons abroad, has not learned much about Padilla's whereabouts. "It's still open," said Stuart Patt, spokesman for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State. "We stay in touch with the family of the pilot, but they haven't heard anything. We haven't heard anything. It's really been a very long time since we've had any news or even any leads.
"Certainly there are a lot of hypotheticals," Patt said, without giving specifics. "We just don't have any basis yet for really being able to give an answer that would be meaningful."
A Frustrating Process
Joseph Padilla, who is retired, spends much of his time checking in with the FBI and State Department and looking for information about the case on the Internet. "I always look at every news organization in America and across the world," he said. "I do that late at night, almost daily."
He is being helped by Florida attorney Martin Pedata, who is working pro bono to try to obtain more information.
The government agencies have said they cannot be more open because of privacy provisions in the Freedom of Information Act that would require Ben Padilla's consent for his relatives to learn more.
Pedata hopes to establish a conservatorship, which would legally allow someone in the Padilla family to act on behalf of Ben, but there's no precedent for the current situation. "There's really no case out there that says this could be done," he said. "Theoretically, under Florida law, the conservator could step into the shoes to try to get around the defense that they can't tell more details."
Meanwhile, the family — which has already lost two other siblings — has struggled through holidays without Ben and "not knowing the status of my brother is just about to drive us crazy."
"The government can see that we are ordinary people," Joseph Padilla said, saying he's told investigators, "'Look, I'm a big boy now. You can tell me if my brother's deceased and you know it.' "
But they don't know, nor do they know the fate of the last plane that was in his charge. And that worries Joseph Padilla, too.
"As an individual, I could care less about this plane," he said. "But as an American, I want it found because this plane has 10 500-gallon fuel tanks."
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:42 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
This story has the FBI,CIA, and US State Department looking for an aircraft that flat out disappeared. A Voice of America report filed on the web states " the plane was last heard requesting permission to land in the Seychelles" The Boeing 727-223 did not land after the request and no one seems to know where it is. Considering the WTC attacks on 911 and the current whereabouts unknown status of Osama Bin Laden and various other persons of interest this story may become all too important in the days ahead. Fully fueled and perhaps retrofitted with portable fuel bladders and a cloned radar transponder this aircraft has the range to reach any area in the continental US.along with a significant payload.
Max Level Speed : 549 ktas (1,017 km/h, 632 mph)
Service Ceiling : -100: 11,400 m (37,400 ft)
-200: 10,730 m (35,200 ft)
FAR T-O distance : 2,938 m (9,640 ft)
FAR Landing Field Length : 1,430 m (4,690 ft)
Range (12,474 kg/27,500 lb payload, 36,831 l/9,730 US Gal fuel)
: 2,600 nm (4,818 km, 2,994 sm)
Standard: 30,623 l (8,090 US Gal)
2 Optional fuselage fuel tanks can be installed, displacing forward
and/or aft cargo compartment volume. These designer bladder fuel
cells can contain up to 9,387 l (2,480 US Gal)each
If further range is required removal of passenger seats and installation of military type portable rubber fuel bladders could be achieved with a minimal technical effort. Provided aircraft C/G requirements and weight limitations are observed a conservative doubling of published endurance figures (5hours) seems likely.With a conservative radius of action of 9636km/5200nm/5998sm
Empty Operating Weight : 45,360 kg (100,000 lb)
MTOW (dry engines) : 83,820-95,027 kg (184,800-209,500 lb)
Max Ramp Weight : 84,275-95,254 kg (185,800-210,000 lb)
Max Zero-Fuel Weight : 62,595-65,315 kg (138,000-144,000 lb)
Max Landing Weight : 70,080-73,028 kg (154,500-161,000 lb) (source Boeing727.com) (USAF.com) (FAA.gov) (Boeing.com)
The 727-200, introduced in December 1967, had increased gross weight and a 20-foot longer fuselage that could accommodate as many as 189 passengers . In all variations, 1,245 of the -200s were sold.(Boeing.com)
As DB Cooper noted the rear access stairs make a convenient exit possible from altitude. With the 4th of July so close at hand one hopes that NORAD and US Air Defense will watch the skies. One hopes better than they did on Sept 11th.
: IATA ICAO FAA Q City Airport Country[.State] Latitude Longitude Elevation Notes
FSSS Mahé Seychelles International SC: SEYCHELLES 4° 41' S 55° 32' E 13 ft
SEYCHELLES Republic of Seychelles Repiblik Sesel SC SYC SE Equatorial Africa
Name Full name Official name ISO FIPS Region Notes
ANGOLA Republic of Angola Republica de Angola AO AGO AO Southern Africa
LAD FNLU Luanda Aeroporto 4 de Fevereiro/Belas AO 8° 50' S 13° 14' E 230 ft
A BOEING 727 passenger jet, grounded at Luanda airport a year ago, has disappeared after a mysterious unauthorised take-off, Angola state radio reported today.
The plane, chartered by the Angolan airline Airangol, was grounded after being banned from overflying Angolan territory on account of a series of irregularities, said Angola civil aviation director Helder Preza.
A witness to the plane's departure on Sunday, airport employee Luis Lopes, said he saw a white man start the empty plane and then take off after a few dangerous land manoeuvres.
Airport chief Celso Rosa said there was some evidence to believe the Boeing had been fuelled up at Luanda airport, and said he would provide this information to the transportation ministry's investigation into the incident.
from news @ au may 28th2003
Angolan government recommended on Friday the "Urgent Conclusion" of the inquiry on the illegal taking off, on Sunday May 25, of an airplane from the "4 de Fevereiro" international airport. The government also recommended the setting up of a multisectorial commission to study, evaluate and propose the adoption of measures aimed at reinforcing security in the airports of the country. The Angolan minister for transports, André Luís Brandão, assured that the inquiry is being done and that in his department "The results of inquiries are always published", adding that it was a very unusual case.
André Luís Brandão stressed that this situation will call for urgent and efficient measures to be taken to keep order and security in the "4 de Fevereiro" International Airport.
The airplane, which had a USA number plate (N844AA), was in the country working for a company called "Air Angola"
Voice of America June 11th by Alex Belida@ ThePentagon
Authorities in Africa and the United States are looking for a Boeing 727 jet missing from Angola since late last month under suspicious circumstances.
The Boeing 727 has been missing since it took off under mysterious circumstances from Luanda airport in the southwest African country of Angola more than two weeks ago.
U.S. government officials tell VOA it was last heard of requesting landing permission in the Seychelles off the coast of East Africa but never arrived there. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the aircraft's disappearance looks like a criminal act.
But with memories still fresh of the bloody September 11 terrorist plane hijackings in the United States almost two years ago, the officials say they have to remain open to the possibility that terrorism may be involved in the case of the vanishing 727.
Authorities in Angola say the plane took off illegally on Sunday, May 25. The country's minister of transportation later indicated the aircraft's disappearance would lead to stepped up security at Luanda airport.
The plane was brought to Angola by a firm called Air Angola. According to VOA's Portuguese service, that firm is owned by a group of current and former high-ranking military officials.
However the Boeing 727 had been parked idle at the airport for more than a year for non-payment of some $4 million in fees to Angola's airport authority.
Some U.S. officials say they suspect the plane may have been flown off to avoid repossession. Others tell VOA they believe it may have been crashed for insurance purposes.
According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was built in 1975. Although it was originally operated by American Airlines, according to FAA records, its latest registered owner was an aircraft leasing firm based in Miami, Florida.
Efforts to contact the firm were unsuccessful. The telephone number for the company has been disconnected.
An FAA spokesman had no new information on the plane or the firm. He told VOA firms are legally obliged to inform the agency of address changes and any transfers in aircraft ownership. But the spokesman conceded that does not always happen and he could not rule out the possibility the plane may have been sold to foreign owners.
Curiously, despite the FAA records, other U.S. government officials said the plane belongs to an American who lives in South Africa who leased the aircraft to others. These officials provided no additional details.
Jet Photos.com has similar data to the FAA database but with pictures showing an aircraft with the tail # N844AA in American Airlines Colors
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:44 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Mystery of the missing 727
Was it stolen for parts or to make a flying bomb?
Posted: September 29, 2003
1:00 am Eastern
© 2010 WorldNetDaily.com
How could a Boeing 727 just disappear without a trace?
You might think in this age of satellite surveillance and sophisticated air-traffic controls, it would be near impossible for a jetliner to be stolen, flown away and not seen again for more than four months.
Yet, that's just what has happened in a daring feat that has governments around the world fearing the jetliner may be in the hands of terrorists, just awaiting its final suicide mission.
The story began May 25, when two men climbed aboard an idle cargo jet in Angola and flew off into the African sky. The jet has not been seen since.
U.S. investigators and civil aviation officials in Africa have tried to downplay the terrorist threat, saying the plane was most likely stolen for a criminal endeavor such as drug or weapons smuggling. Some have speculated it may have been stolen for the value of its spare parts. Yet, no one can definitively rule out the terrorist threat.
State Department spokesmen have said there is no evidence linking the disappearance of the plane to terrorists, but they admit they would like to see the plane found so the threat can be ruled out.
U.S. officials also say everything that can be done to find the plane using modern technology is being done. But experts say even in the age of satellites and other high-tech search methods, a new coat of paint and a stolen registration number would make tracking the plane nearly impossible.
When the plane, with tail number N844AA, left Luanda airport May 25, the transponder was turned off, so the plane's position could not be monitored by air-traffic control.
Worse yet, the missing 727 cargo jet had been converted into a fuel tanker, making it highly desirable as a "flying bomb."
An American named Ben Padilla approached authorities a month before the plane disappeared, saying the owner wanted to take the plane out of Angola. Padilla was asked for $50,000 in fees accumulated during the year the plane sat in Angola. Padilla was one of the two men later seen boarding the plane just before it took off.
According to Padilla's family in Florida, he was hired to repossess the jet after Air Angola failed to make lease payments.
His sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, says she feared the plane had crashed or Padilla, 51, was being held against his will.
"I'm becoming highly concerned that we're not getting enough cooperation from the FBI and CIA," she told Fox News earlier this month. "I've spoken with someone at the CIA last week and expressed my concerns, and they continue to give us the answer they cannot give us any additional information."
Padilla-Kirkland said she is suspicious about repeated U.S. insistence that this is a criminal act.
"I've noticed that a lot of the European agencies are more concerned with this being a terrorist act," she said. "It seems to be that the European countries seem to be a little bit more concerned about this plane's disappearance than our government seems to be concerned."
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:47 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Out of Africa, into thin air: A jet vanishes
Did terrorists take the Boeing 727 in Angola? What happened to the Florida man aboard? So far, no answers.
By SUSAN TAYLOR MARTIN, Times Senior Correspondent
Published October 24, 2004
[Courtesy of Joseph B. Padilla Sr.]
Ben Charles Padilla, front right, disappeared on board a Boeing 727. He was an FAA-certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic and private pilot.
In May 2003, Ben Charles Padilla got a disturbing e-mail from a brother in Pensacola: Their mother had suffered a heart attack.
Padilla e-mailed back that he would call as soon as he could get to a phone. Relatives didn't hear from him again, but at first they weren't concerned. After all, he was 7,100 miles away in the African nation of Angola.
For several weeks before, the 50-year-old pilot and aircraft mechanic had been at Angola's main airport overseeing refurbishment of an aging Boeing 727. The plane had been parked so long that observers were surprised when, shortly before sunset on May 25, Padilla and another man climbed on board, revved up the engines and taxied out.
Witnesses were even more surprised to see the plane swerve back and forth, as though someone were wrestling for the controls. Then, with no flight plan or contact with the tower, the big jet roared down the runway and took off.
That was the last known sighting of the 727 and Ben Charles Padilla.
Did the plane crash into the jungle or plunge into the Atlantic Ocean off the Angolan coast?
Did it disappear as the result of an insurance scam or garden-variety theft, only to resurface in another Third World county with a new paint job and registration number?
Or did something more sinister happen, as Padilla's family and others fear? Could the 727 - which had been retrofitted to carry tons of extra fuel - been hijacked by terrorists for use in a 9/11-style attack?
"I believe al-Qaida stole this plane because all the seats had been stripped and it has 10,500-gallon fuel tanks on board," says Padilla's brother, Joseph, a retired millwright in Pensacola.
"The plane left as the sun started going down - it could have been landed on a dirt runway out in the jungle somewhere and they had until sunset to hide it in a hangar."
The State Department says U.S. authorities have worked closely with Angola and other African nations to locate the plane and Padilla. The FBI posted his picture on its Web site, along with the plane's identification numbers and a request for information. And Padilla's family has enlisted the help of Florida Sen. Bill Nelson to get the CIA or NASA to reposition their satellites to look for the jet.
But what happened to it and Padilla remains a mystery.
"In spite of months of searching and following up on several false leads, neither Mr. Padilla nor the plane has ever been located," a State Department official recently wrote to Nelson.
"There has never been any evidence that would give us a clue as to what happened to Mr. Padilla. Given the efforts to date and the time elapsed since his disappearance we sincerely regret that we cannot offer more hope about his whereabouts."
"A dangerous place'
Growing up in Pensacola, the birthplace of naval aviation, Ben Padilla always wanted to fly. As a kid, he saved his money to buy a gas-powered model plane.
"It probably cost $100 - that was a lot of money back then," his brother recalls.
In keeping with the family trade, Padilla first worked as a millwright repairing electrical equipment. In his spare time he took flying lessons and eventually earned FAA certification as a private pilot, flight engineer and aircraft mechanic.
By the early '90s, Padilla was a professional pilot ferrying cargo around the United States. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks and the slowdown in civil aviation. Unable to find work, Padilla left his girlfriend and grown daughter and headed for Africa. On that sprawling continent, he resumed his cargo-carrying career.
In early 2003, Padilla was contacted by Maury Joseph, owner of Aerospace Sales & Leasing in Miami. Joseph knew of Padilla's skills as a mechanic, and asked if he would supervise work on a Boeing-200 that Aerospace had repossessed.
Introduced in 1963, the 727 long was a workhorse of commercial aviation. It had a range of 2,140 miles and needed relatively little runway space. But with the introduction of the quieter Boeing 737, the 727 was gradually phased out of passenger use in the United States.
Still, 1,200 of the jets remain in service today, many of them in developing countries. The plane Padilla was hired to work on joined the American Airlines fleet in 1975 and was still flying almost three decades later, this time hauling diesel fuel to remote Angolan diamond mines.
For months, the 727 had been idle at DeFevereiro International Airport in the Angolan capital of Luanda. Then on May 25, 2003, an unidentified man paid $93,000 cash to fully fuel the jet. That afternoon, Padilla was seen boarding the plane with a Congolese man who also had been working on it. Padilla was not licensed to pilot a 727, so any actual flying was to be done later by a crew he had hired.
"My brother was to take it out on the runway to rev the engines up and see how they were performing and then return it to the hangar," Joseph Padilla says. "Authorities at the airport said it started making crazy ground maneuvers and then took off. That tells me my brother was trying to fight off whoever was trying to take control of the plane."
According to Angolan officials, air traffic controllers tried to communicate with the jet, but it did not respond. Witnesses said it flew low, as though trying to avoid radar detection, before disappearing from sight.
But despite the 727's strange behavior, controllers did not immediately report the incident to Angolan authorities, the plane's owner later told Padilla's family.
And the owner said he did not learn of the disappearance until the next day, when the company that was supposed to supply the pilot and flight engineer complained that the plane had left without them.
"Whoever took it probably bribed people in the tower to delay reporting it so the plane could get out of Angola's airspace," says Padilla's sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland. A poor nation ravaged by decades of civil war, Angola ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries in a recent survey by Transparency International, an organization devoted to battling corruption.
Once the 727 was officially listed as missing on May 26, searchers combed the nearby Atlantic but found no wreckage or oil slicks. There also weren't any electronic signals from the plane's waterproof beacon, designed to operate for at least 30 days.
"We've experienced cases where we were able to find beacons in the water for several weeks past that, so it's a highly reliable mechanism," says Liz Verdier, a Boeing spokeswoman.
The plane also should have been easy to spot had it gone down in the savannalike terrain along the coast. It would have been harder to find if it had crashed in the jungles of northern Angola, but the impact presumably would have caused a fireball visible for miles.
The missing Boeing was shaping up as a classic aviation mystery. Although smaller planes are sometimes stolen and altered to elude detection - especially in what one expert calls the "Wild West" atmosphere of Africa - no one could recall a 200,000-pound, three-engine jet disappearing without a trace.
As time went by with no sign of the 727, concern grew that it had been hijacked. Africa is no stranger to terrorist attacks; in 1998, truck bombs killed 231 people at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And less than a year before the 727 disappeared, 15 died in the bombing of a Kenyan hotel frequented by Israeli visitors.
"We don't have (terrorist) groups in Angola, but after Sept. 11 anybody with a big plane like that disappears and you get worried," says Evaristo Jose, a spokesman for the Angolan Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The 727's range and age likely would preclude it from being flown across the Atlantic for an attack on American soil. However, it could easily reach numerous African capitals - and U.S. embassies.
Aviation experts say that it's also possible the plane was stolen for less ominous reasons, and that it has been hard to track because its registration was changed with the complicity of corrupt officials.
"It's not something that's easily done in the U.S. or Europe or Asia, but if you go to a very small Third World country and they stamp off on it, it's going to look official," says John Cox, a USAirways pilot familiar with African aviation because of his work with the International Federation of Airline Pilots.
If, as Cox speculates, the plane is still "flying around cargo," why haven't Padilla and the Congolese man been heard from?
"Africa's a dangerous place and you're talking about an asset that's certainly worth a couple of million dollars. People have fallen prey to foul play for far less."
For Padilla's family, the past 17 months have brought only frustration and false alarms. On Christmas Day 2003, officials thought they had found the plane when a chartered 727 crashed on takeoff from the West African nation of Benin, killing 111. But it turned out there had been a mixup in registration numbers.
Several months ago, the family's hopes rose again when they got a tip from a private investigator: A pilot in Fargo, N.D., had been overhead saying he knew an aircraft mechanic who had seen the missing 727 in a hangar in Beirut, Lebanon. The FBI tracked down the pilot, but "from what I understand, that led to a dead end," Padilla's brother says.
A month after the 727's disappearance, the son of Maury Joseph, the plane's owner, told the Washington Post that a disgruntled former sales associate had been in Africa saying he intended to make a claim on the jet. The man, a convicted marijuana smuggler, could not be reached for comment, the Post reported.
Suspicion also fell on Joseph himself. The former head of Florida West Airlines, a cargo hauler, Joseph was ordered in 1998 to pay a $50,000 penalty for inflating company revenues in public statements and for having an employee forge signatures on aircraft sales contracts.
Joseph could not be reached, and calls to Aerospace Sales & Leasing were not returned. However, Padilla's relatives say Joseph has spoken with them and seems to be cooperating with investigators.
A few months ago, Padilla's brother contacted the CIA about using a spy satellite to search for the 727 but "only got the runaround," he says. Now he is working with the office of Sen. Nelson, who flew on the space shuttle, to see if NASA would reposition one of its satellites. The family is still waiting to hear from the agency.
With no progress in the search, Padilla's relatives remain convinced the plane was hijacked by al-Qaida and hidden somewhere. And they know Padilla would have called to check on his mother if he had been able to.
"Put yourself in the spot of a terrorist," says Joseph Padilla. "You think they're going to want to bother holding someone 24 hours a day and keeping an eye on them? I believe they have killed him."
Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at email@example.com
[Last modified October 24, 2004, 00:43:52]
Posted: Aug 30 2010, 01:49 PM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 22-July 06
Another update to the story:
The mystery of the Boeing 727 jet missing since it left Angola with extra fuel tanks on May 25 deepened this weekend when the family of an American pilot said they feared he had taken the plane and crashed.
The jet took off from Luanda airport where it had been standing for 14 months. It hasn't been seen or heard from since. Speculation about what has happened to it ranges from terrorism to fuel smuggling and theft and fears have been expressed that it could have been stolen to be used in a September 11-type terror attack in Africa.
This week, the family of 51-year-old Miami pilot Ben Padilla expressed fears that he had flown it from Luanda airport without permission and had since crashed. US authorities have named Padilla and John Mikel Mutantu in connection with the Boeing's disappearance.
Padilla's brother Joseph earlier said he feared that after 14 months without service, the Boeing's hydraulics might have failed in the air. He rejected any suggestion that his brother might have been involved in terrorism or crime and called him an American patriot.
It is not clear who owned the plane but Padilla's sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told a Florida newspaper that Padilla had been hired by a Miami firm to repossess the plane after Angola Air failed to make payments on it. The Miami company listed on aviation websites as the plane's owner, Aerospace Sales & Leasing Co Inc, could not be reached for comment. Padilla-Kirkland said the family suspected Padilla was flying the Boeing that took off from Angola on May 25 and may have crashed somewhere in Africa. Padilla is an aircraft mechanic and pilot who has flown cargo planes around the world for two decades.
Padilla responded last month to an e-mail from a relative informing him that his mother was in hospital after a heart attack. More than a month later, his mother is recovering in Pensacola, but the family still hasn't heard from him. "I know (he) would have called my mother," Padilla-Kirkland said. "His last e-mail said he would call her when he could, and the fact that he has not called her is the first clear sign that he's unable to because he has either crashed or is being held against his will."