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Thursday, 22 April 2004

Seeking Information
Ben Padilla

Date of birth: 1953
Place of birth: USA
Height: 6'2"
Weight: Unknown
Hair: Brown
Eyes: Brown
Complexion: Light
Sex: Male
Remarks: Padilla is a United States citizen from the State of Florida

Information is sought on the whereabouts of American citizen Ben Padilla, last seen at Luanda de Fevereiro International Airport on May 25, 2003. Although Mr. Padilla has been charged with no crime by the FBI, more information can be found on the FBI website ( If you have information about Mr. Padilla, please contact the nearest American Embassy or consulate or follow the instructions on the FBI's website.

For Immediate Release
July 23, 2003
U.S. Embassy, Office of Public Affairs

Information is sought on the whereabouts of American citizen Ben Padilla, last seen at Luanda (4) de Fevereiro International Airport on May 25, 2003. Although Mr. Padilla has been charged with no crime by the FBI, more information can be found on the FBI's website. If you have information about Mr. Padilla, please contact the nearest American Embassy or Consulate or follow the instructions on the FBI's website.

Para Divulga??o Imediata
23 de Julho de 2003
Embaixada dos E.U.A., Sec??o de Imprensa e Cultura

Procura-se informa??es em torno do paradeiro do cidad?o Americano, Ben Padilla, visto, pela ?ltima vez, no Aeroporto Internacional 4 de Fevereiro em Luanda, no dia 25 de Maio de 2003. Embora o Sr. Padilla n?o tenha sido formalmente acusado de algum crime pelo Bureau de Investiga??o Federal (FBI), informa??es adicionais podem ser encontradas no website do FBI. Caso tenha em sua posse informa??es sobre o Sr. Padilla, queira, por favor, contactar a Embaixada ou o Consuldao Norte-Americano mais pr?ximo ou ainda seguir as instru??es inseridas no website do FBI.

Letter from Joseph Padilla looking for his brother Ben Charles Padilla posted on various web forums on the internet.

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 trying 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 America 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.

Can you please help me by broadcasting a story or by your website news or newspaper?
I have a lot of information about the disappearance of the plane and my brother.
You can contact me at : 850-944-9688 or either by e-mail -

I hope that you will give me your help in hopes that someone seeing the story will either know something about the disappearance of the plane and my brother or know someone that does.

Here is what I have so far about the story.
As in the beginning as I told ABC News on The Good Morning America Show that I appeared on in New York, I thought that the Boeing 727 Plane had been sitting there in Angola for 14 months unattended to and not maintained.
Now, I have found out that My Brother, Ben Charles Padilla, Jr. had been in Angola for 2 months overseeing a crew of aircraft mechanics re-working the plane from one end to the other.
A B-Check was done and it was found to be fine.
I talked to the owner of the plane, Mr. Maury Joseph, which is also the owner of Aerospace Sales And Leasing in South Florida.
I too live in Florida, Pensacola, Fl. and my brother too was born and raised here.
Maury Joseph told me that he was there in Angola two weeks before the disappearance to see how things were going with the re-build of the 727 and also talked to my brother 2 days before the plane became missing and he had sent my brother $43,000.00 for him to pay the fees to the airport there in Angola. My brother paid the airport and faxed Maury Joseph the receipt. This is what Maury Joseph told me this past Friday night during our two and a half hour phone conversation.
My brother was also in charge of the hiring of a pilot and co-pilot. He was to be the Flight Engineer for the flight out of Angola for the repossession of the Boeing 727 plane.
My brother is not licensed to fly a 727 and never has flown an aircraft this large.
He is a Licensed Aircraft Mechanic, Flight Engineer, and Pilot of smaller airplanes.
I was told that he had took the plane out to the end of the runway and ran the engines up to check to see how they performed.
I feel that when my brother was checking the engines, someone was on the plane and hijacked him.
My brother isn't a criminal nor has never done any wrong doings.
Maury Joseph told me that he trusts my brother and doesn't believe the reports of my brother stealing the plane.
Maury Joseph also told me that he had talked to the Airport there in Angola and had found out that the control tower had radioed the 727 and told them as they were headed out to the runway to take off, that they didn't have clearance nor permission to take off and the tower never received a response from the 727.
I talked to my brother Ben Padilla, Jr. back in either Jan. or Feb. and we talked about the Sept. 11 2001 ordeal and he himself told me that if this sort of thing ever happened to him, that he would down the plane in a New York Second.
So, with that said I really believe my brother was hijacked and taken prisoner and held against his will and possibly was killed.
My mother had a heart attack on Mothers Day and my brother was e-mailed about this and he responded to the e-mail he received from another brother of ours and told him that he would contact us as soon as he could and we haven't heard anything from him. So, that tells me that something isn't right since he would of contacted the family about our mother.
I have talked to the 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 trying to search for any information that I can get thru news organizations.
I find a lot 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 in case anyone knows anything or has seen him before, to please contact me.
I am including in this e-mail 2 pictures of him incase you run this story in which I hope you do.
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 and my e-mail address is,
Our family has already lost 2 siblings and can not bear to lose another one.
I would appreciate any help you can give me.
If you need any additional information, Please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thank you so much for your time.
Joseph B. Padilla, SR.

Information from the web site.

MAY 25, 2003


Age: 50 years old Hair: Brown
Sex: Male Eyes: Brown
Height: 6'2" Race: White
Weight: Unknown Complexion: Light
Remarks: Padilla is a United States citizen from the state of Florida.


On May 25, 2003, at approximately 6 p.m. local time, an airplane took off from DeFevereiro International Airport in Luanda, Angola, with neither clearance nor a flight plan, and has not been seen since. The plane is described as a 200 series advanced 727 jet with a tail number of N844AA, and a serial number of 20985. It is 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.

Law enforcement officials believe that Ben Charles Padilla may have been on board the plane at the time it disappeared. The FBI is interested in locating Padilla, as he may have information as to the whereabouts of the plane.


TELEPHONE: (202) 324-3000


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Phone: 610-458-7050

Fax: 610-458-8735


Into thin air (Where on earth is Angola's missing 727? Is it now a bomb?)
The Telegraph, London via SMH ^ | August 15, 2003 | William Langley

Posted on 08/15/2003 6:55:38 AM PDT
A Boeing 727 has disappeared from Angola. Was it insurance fraud? Has a cartel of diamond smugglers got it? Or could it be in the hands of al-Qaeda? William Langley reports.
The old Boeing had done its duty well. It had served 26 loyal years in the colours of American Airlines, but its best days were long gone, and as the sun rose over West Africa on May 25 this year it sat forlornly on the greasy concrete apron of Luanda International Airport in Angola, apparently leased to Air Angola.

It hadn't flown for 14 months, and its sorry state seemed to tell a familiar story about African airports - unpaid bills, dodgy paperwork, token maintenance. Nevertheless, no one paid it much attention. But the 727 was about to become the centrepiece of one of the strangest mysteries in aviation history, one that would alarm Western governments and baffle investigators around the world.

There are only a few places where a 46.5 metre-long, 90,718 kilogram commercial airliner can take off without warning and simply disappear. Africa is one of them, and whoever was at the controls of the Boeing 727 - registration number N844AA - on the afternoon of May 25 must have known the possibilities of what pilots call the "gauntlet" - the vast, virtually uncontrolled airspace south of the Sahara Desert and north of the Limpopo River. For, at around teatime, the plane suddenly fired up its engines, rumbled down the runway, soared into the velvety dusk and vanished.

"In 22 years in this business, I've never come across anything like this," says Chris Yates, a security analyst for Jane's Aviation Service. "Even for Africa it's astounding." But who took the 727? Terrorists? Criminals? Joyriders?

From the moment the plane's disappearance was disclosed, the CIA and the secretive National Security Agency in the United States have been urgently trying to find out. British, French and Russian intelligence services have been co-opted into the search. Spy satellites have swept all potential landing places within the plane's range. Western diplomats throughout Africa have been ordered to keep their ears to the ground, and thousands of hours of air-traffic communications have been analysed in the search for clues.

Unconfirmed reports have come in of the plane making a clandestine landing in Nigeria, crashing off the Seychelles, and being seen, with a hasty new paint job, flying between Guinea and the Lebanon.

"Basically," says Phil Reeker, a spokesman for the US State Department, "we don't know where it is. But we really need to find out. This is a serious matter."

Underlining these fears was an updated advisory notice, issued by the US Homeland Security Department the month the plane went missing, saying that the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation had a "continuing fixation" with using large commercial aircraft for attacks. And that following the plane's purchase from American Airlines in late 2001, it was converted into a flying fuel-tanker. "It doesn't take a genius," says Yates, "to figure out that if you filled it up and stuck a couple of suicide pilots on board, you'd have a huge bomb."

Many threads remain to be unravelled in the mystery of the lost Boeing. Some may, indeed, lead back to al-Qaeda, and others, perhaps, to the culture of what passes for Angola's Civil Aviation Authority. But one thread seems clearly to lead to the brash figure of Ben Padilla, a 51-year-old "cowboy" cargo pilot who went missing, from his home in Miami, Florida, about the same time as the plane.

Padilla is a minor legend in the murky realms of Third World aviation, someone known as the man to turn to for difficult missions. A pilot, engineer, navigator and mechanic, he is, says a former colleague, "a guy who'll do anything. He sorts out the money problems, cuts through the paperwork, and brings your plane home."

His sister, Benita, says he is a "John Wayne type - intimidating. Like he's bulletproof". He is not, though, according to the US Federal Aviation Authority, certified to fly 727s. Nor is he given to vanishing acts.

Padilla arrived in Angola two months before the Boeing's disappearance. He knew who to look for. Helder Preza, director of the Angolan CAA, recalls Padilla telling him that he had come to take possession of the Boeing on behalf of its owners. "We told him that was no problem," says Preza, "as long as the fees owing on it were met." Padilla apparently promised to organise the money - $US50,000 ($76,000) - and, in the meantime, was allowed to do maintenance work on the plane.

Ascertaining the true ownership of aircraft - especially those in Africa - can be difficult. The FAA's database shows that after being "retired" by American Airlines in late 2001, the Boeing was bought by a Miami-based company called Aerospace Sales and Leasing for slightly less than $US1 million. But ASL appears to have no listed telephone number or corporate address and US press reports say the man who owns it, Maury Joseph, was barred from running a publicly traded company after being convicted in 1997 of defrauding investors.

Joseph will not speak about the Luanda episode, or anything else, but his son Lance, a Miami lawyer, says the 727 was leased to Air Angola - the country's ramshackle flag-carrier - which appears to be ultimately owned by the Angolan Army. The plane was converted to carry bulk fuel in sealed tanks to mining outposts in the country's remote interior.

But, says Lance, soon after entering the agreement Air Angola failed to keep up the payments. The plane ran up further bills sitting on the ground in Luanda, and ASL was trying to negotiate its repossession when it vanished. Lance says he "doesn't recall" the name of Ben Padilla and has no idea where the Boeing is now.

On the day it flew away the 727 took on 953,000 litres of jet fuel - enough to give it a range of about 2400 kilometres. Airport officials say two men - one of them thought to be Padilla - boarded the aircraft before the refuelling, and that at about 5pm the plane's three engines were started. In fading light, the aircraft suddenly taxied down the runway, spun around and took off. The men in the cockpit made no radio contact, and the plane's transponder, which allows it to be more easily tracked by radar, was switched off.

Luanda Airport - one of the world's more dilapidated - has enough trouble dealing with its daily handful of authorised flights. No system was in place to prevent an unauthorised one.

"The plane would have been lost within minutes," says Richard Cornwell, a senior researcher at the South African Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. "Basically, once you go north of South Africa there is no air-traffic control until you reach the Mediterranean coast. Radar over most of Africa is non-existent. This aircraft could have gone anywhere."

Early media reports say the plane finally broke radio silence far out over the Indian Ocean, to request landing permission in the Seychelles - more than 3200 kilometres from Luanda. Seychelles officials deny they ever heard from N844AA, and certainly the plane did not arrive.

To have even reached the vicinity of the holiday islands it would have needed to be refuelled somewhere on the African mainland - and no country admits having received it. Almost six weeks after the 727's disappearance an intriguing report surfaced of it having been spotted on the ground in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. Bob Strother, a Canadian pilot, says it appeared to have been given a hasty respray and a new Guinean registration number. "There's absolutely no doubt it's the same aircraft," Strother told a newspaper. "The old registration is clearly visible."

The Boeing was said to be in the hands of "a member of West Africa's Lebanese business community" who was using it to run goods between Conakry and Beirut. There is no doubt that the Lebanese diaspora in West Africa - which controls the diamond trade and much else - includes a number of canny and redoubtable operators. But would one go to the lengths of stealing a commercial jet at a time of extreme anti-terrorist security?

Before the question could be answered the plane vanished again. It has not returned to Guinea, and the US State Department says it is treating Strother's report "with caution". Reeker says, "Our position is that this aircraft remains unaccounted for."

So where is the plane? And where is Padilla? The missing pilot's brother Joe, speaking from his home in Pensacola, Florida, fears the worst. "The family has heard nothing," says Joe Padilla.

"Not since before he went to Angola. My understanding is that it was a legitimate mission. His job was to repossess the plane, make it airworthy and bring it out of there. My feeling is something bad happened while he was getting ready to leave. Someone forced him to do something against his will.

"Ben's an adventurer, and a great airman. He's worked in all the crazy places - Paraguay, Mozambique, the Philippines; the places other guys don't want to work. But he's not a criminal and he's certainly not a terrorist.

"The fact he hasn't been in touch tells me he is probably dead. I don't know how. Maybe the people who forced him to take off killed him later. Maybe if the plane wasn't fully ready to fly, it crashed somewhere. It's all a big mystery."

And so it may remain. The State Department says there is "no reason" to believe the Boeing has been taken by terrorists. But the apparent ease with which a purpose-built flying bomb can vanish is a sobering reminder of the kind of opportunity available to an outfit like al-Qaeda.

"African aviation is another world,' says Chris Yates. "Anything can happen there. And now it has."

US, Angola Seek Missing Boeing 727 Jet
Voice of America

Alex Belida
11 Jun 2003, 19:27 UTC

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.

July 07, 2003
That missing Boeing reappears
The Boeing 727 that the CIA and various other bodies have been searching for has briefly reappeared, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Actually, they report that the Guardian reported it, but I couldn't find the article on their website- must have only been in the print edition.

Mystery Boeing briefly resurfaces after disappearance
July 8 2003

A Boeing 727, whose sudden disappearance in Angola in May unnerved US intelligence agencies, reappeared last week in the Guinean capital Conakry before vanishing once again, British newspaper The Guardian reports.

Washington has been working with African governments in the past month in a frantic bid to hunt down the cargo plane, amid fears the aircraft could be used by terrorists in a repeat of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The paper said the plane was seen on June 28 by a Canadian pilot, Bob Strother, in Conakry, sporting a new coat of paint and a Guinean registration number.

But Mr Strother told the paper that two letters of the plane's old tail number - N844AA - were still showing, proving the aircraft was the same Boeing that was being sought by US diplomats throughout Africa.

"There's absolutely no doubt it's the same aircraft, the old registration is clearly visible," he was quoted as saying.

"Whoever owns it must have some important friends to get it reregistered in two days: going by the book, the whole process usually takes a couple of months," he added.

"We only saw it that one time, now it's gone."

The plane, which was converted into a fuel tanker, is owned by a member of West Africa's Lebanese business community and was being used to carry goods between Beirut and Conakry, said Mr Strother.

The 28-year-old jetliner was stolen from under the noses of the control tower at the airport in the Angolan capital Luanda on May 25 and until now had not been sighted. It had been parked at the airport for 14 months.

Angolan state radio said shortly after its disappearance that it had been chartered by the Angolan airline Airangol but was grounded after being banned from overflying Angolan territory on account of a series of irregularities.

While US officials are concerned the plane could have been stolen by terrorists, the most likely scenario is that the aircraft was stolen as part of a business dispute or financial scam, said a western diplomat in Sierra Leone, quoted by The Guardian.



Hunt For The Missing
Boeing 727 'Flying Bomb'
By Gordon Thomas

An international hunt is on to find a flying bomb a stolen Boeing 727 which led to British Airways cancelling all flights to Saudi Arabia last week.

The plane is a fuel tanker that MI6 and other spy agencies fear is in the hands of al-Qaeda.

The search is being coordinated by Richard Dearlove, director of MI6, and George Tenet, the CIA chief. Both President Bush and Tony Blair, on holiday in Barbados, are being kept updated on the search one of the most difficult in aviation history.

Hidden somewhere in the vast Sahara desert of East Africa an area the size of Europe the spy chiefs believe the Boeing was poised to launch its attack on a British airliner as it began its descent over Saudi Arabia into Riyadh airport.

Suspected al-Qaeda terrorists spotted outside the airport last week are now believed to have been using sophisticated electronic equipment to track British airways flights.

They escaped before Saudi police could arrest them.

The international agencies involved in the hunt for the Boeing are MI6, Mossad, the CIA and NSA, America's spy in the sky. All have confirmed the feasibility of the flying bomb destroying a British Airways commercial plane.

The attack would require no more than two pilots.

"Al-Qaeda have a number of such pilots who were trained in Iran. We have been hunting them for some time in Africa, said a Mossad source."

The area where the Boeing is believed hidden has little or no radar cover making it almost impossible to track as it took off on its deadly mission.

"We are certain that the flying bomb will have been re-sprayed in the colours of one of the small airlines operating in central Africa," an intelligence officer involved in the hunt said. "That makes it even harder to spot as there are a lot of old 727s flying in Africa, bought cheap from major airlines."

The Boeing's own navigation system would enable it to intercept a British Airways flight as it descended into Riyadh airport. "The crew would be relaxing after their long flight being almost over. They would not be looking out for an attack coming across the Red Sea from Africa. At a closing speed of almost 900 miles, they would have no chance to avoid the flying bomb, said international security expert Ted Gunderson in Washington.

The Boeing fuel tanker can carry twice the amount of jet fuel which caused the fireballs that toppled the World Trade Centre in New York. America's Homeland Security Agency which coordinates all intelligence for President Bush sent out an urgent warning that al-Qaeda "has a continuing fixation to use a large plane to launch a spectacular to mark the second anniversary of 9/11."

Christopher Yates, a security analyst with Jane's Aviation Service in London said: "it doesn't take a genius to figure out if you filled up the Boeing tanker to capacity you would have a huge bomb." It was that threat which led to MI6 sending a "red alert to British Airways. America's National Security Agency (NSA) has moved one of its satellites in the Middle East to begin to quarter the Sahara. Intelligence officers have been authorised to pay substantial sums to nomadic Arabs who roam the Sahara for any clues as to where the Boeing is hidden.

The last sighting was made two months ago by a Canadian pilot, Robert Strothers.

Taking off from Comakry, the seaport capital of Gunea, he claimed he saw the Boeing parked inside a hanger.

"It had been re-sprayed. But the old registration was still visible," Strothers has told MI6.

By the time an MI6 officer from adjoining Sierra Leone had arrived in Guinea, the 727 had gone. It was next reported to have landed at Ndjamrna, an airport in Chad. The country adjoins Sudan. The Sudanese deny the aircraft entered their air space and hinted it had flown north to the Middle East.

Last week, the State Department in Washington which has asked all its diplomats in the region to "mobilise their resources" said that "finding the plane is now a top priority."

Another urgent concern is to discover the fate of Ben Padilla, the 51 year old American "bush pilot" who was at the controls of the 727 when it suddenly took off from Luanda airport in Angola on May 25. That afternoon, a still unidentified man had paid for 14,000 gallons of jet fuel with US dollars.

Shortly before 5pm, Padilla climbed on board with the man. He was later described as "Middle Eastern."

Padilla had been at the airport for some weeks. He claimed he represented a Miami company called Aerospace and Leasing, ASL. The company later denied he was working for them. The Luanda airport manager, Helder Preza, said the Boeing had ran up ?30,000 of charges while being parked at the airport after being sold on by American Airlines to ASL.

Padilla guaranteed payment on ASL notepaper. He was then allowed to carry out essential aircraft maintenance to fly the plane back to Miami.

On that May afternoon, he announced to Luanda Air Traffic Control he was going to do engine tests. He fired-up all three engines and rolled the 727 out to the runway.

Suddenly, remembers Helder, "the plane took off. Padilla and the mystery man were on board. The radio was turned off. The transponder, which would have allowed radar to track the plane, was turned off. In minutes it was gone."

Padilla's brother, Joe, who lives in Pensacola, Florida, believes his brother was "forced to fly some place and is now dead."

From Edward O'Finnegan

Does anybody believe that this 727 isn't carrying tracking devices? I'd expect them to have several - at least one of them a 'secure' high-tech device and still functioning, by satellite or overfly. Are they playing games?

Missing Boeing: Race against time
20/06/2003 23:00 - (SA)

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Kenya: Terror warning

Missing 727 could spell terror

Mystery Boeing in African skies

Ziegfried Ekron

Cape Town - Western intelligence services are racing against the clock to find a passenger aircraft somewhere in Africa.

The Boeing 727 was stolen in Angola earlier and there were fears that it could be used in an attack similar to the 9/11 disaster.

The American CIA started searching for the aircraft more than a month ago after it was stolen at an airport in Luanda.

Interpol in South Africa had also conducted a search, but to no avail.

The aircraft disappeared on May 25 after leaving the Luanda airport without permission. The Boeing, which can carry 150 people, had been standing at the Luanda airport for more than a year.

Reports said the Boeing was the property of an American company, which hired it out.

Superintendent Mary Martins-Engelbrecht, Interpol's South African spokesperson, said the Angolan government contacted police two weeks ago to investigate reports that the aircraft could be in South Africa.

Engelbrecht said: "We investigated every possibility, but found that it wasn't in South Africa."

The search in South Africa was called off, but the CIA requested British and French intelligence services to help conduct a search on the African continent.

American spy satellites were used to photograph airports where the aircraft could have been hidden.

Sapa reported that the aircraft might be used for smuggling purposes. Western countries, however, fear that the aircraft might be used in a deadly attack.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that American authorities were concerned that the aircraft could be used against American targets in Africa.

The aircraft's seats had apparently been removed to make room for huge fuel tanks for flights to remote destinations.

Missing 727 could spell terror
18/06/2003 14:19 - (SA)

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'Flying bomb' missing

Washington - The United States and several African nations are busy looking for a Boeing 727 passenger jet stolen in Angola last month, fearing it could fall into terrorist hands, The Washington Post said on Wednesday.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the state department have joined in the continent-wide search for the aircraft US authorities said was likely stolen from the airport in the capital Luanda as part of a business dispute or financial scam.

A less likely, but far more chilling scenario, is that the plane was either stolen by terrorists or could end up in their hands for a possible September 11-type attack somewhere in Africa, US officials told the daily.

The 28-year-old jetliner was stolen from under the noses of Luanda airport's control tower on May 25 and has not been sighted since. It had been parked at the airport for 14 months.

US spy satellites have taken pictures of remote airstrips throughout Africa, including those at a half-fuel-tank's distance from Luanda's "4 de Fevereiro" airport. US diplomats have travelled across Africa seeking the aircraft.

"I haven't come across this before in 22 years in this business," said Chris Yates, a civil aviation security analyst for the private Jane's Aviation service.

"It is not a stretch to think this plane could end up in the hands of terrorists. A number of companies involved in gun running 'other crimes' in Africa have indirect ties to various terrorist groups," he added.

Flown by American Airlines for decades, the 47m 90 700kg jetliner was later owned, leased or subleased by a number of people and companies, with the Miami-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing Co its current owner.

Angolan state radio said shortly after its disappearance that it had been chartered by the Angolan airline Airangol but was grounded after being banned from overflying Angolan territory on account of a series of irregularities. - Sapa-AFP


In Angola, A Jetliner's Vanishing Act
Boeing 727 Is Subject Of Search, U.S. Worry
By John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2003; Page A01

The Boeing 727 had not budged from its parking place at the airport in Angola's capital city for 14 months, so when the jetliner started taxiing down the runway, the men in the control tower radioed the pilot for an explanation. There was no reply from the cockpit, even after the plane rumbled to a takeoff into the African skies.

The plane has been missing since it took off from the Luanda airport around dinnertime on May 25, setting off a continent-wide search for its whereabouts that includes the CIA, the State Department and a number of African nations. Their fear is that terrorists could stage a replay of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, using the plane in a suicide attack somewhere in Africa.

U.S. authorities say it is likely the airplane was filched as part of a business dispute or financial scam. But even so, they say, there is a danger that unscrupulous people in control of a plane that size could make it available to arms or gem smugglers, guerrilla movements or terrorists.

It has been a commonplace for decades in Africa for the paperwork on commercial aircraft, especially small and mid-sized planes, to be dodgy, and for regulation to be extremely lax, industry officials said. Planes continually change ownership, and the aprons of some African airstrips are littered with wrecked aircraft stripped for parts.

But losing a 153-foot, 200,000-pound aircraft is no common occurrence.

"I haven't come across this before in 22 years in this business," said Chris Yates, a civil aviation security analyst for the private Jane's Aviation service. "It is not a stretch to think this plane could end up in the hands of terrorists. A number of companies involved in gun running [and other crimes] in Africa have indirect ties to various terrorist groups."

In the post-Sept. 11 world, even the possibility that terrorists could obtain a large aircraft prompts intensive government scrutiny. U.S. officials are alarmed because large swaths of Africa are under heightened alert for terrorism. Last month, 42 people, including 13 terrorists, died in a series of orchestrated suicide bombings in Casablanca, Morocco. In November, 16 people, including three terrorists, died in the bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa, Kenya.

Western intelligence officials say al Qaeda operatives are known to be casing possible targets in Kenya and other East African nations. On May 15, British officials suspended flights to and from Kenya after raising the perceived threat to its commercial flights there to the highest level, "imminent."

Homeland Security Department officials said that given the likelihood that thieves and not al Qaeda are behind the 727's disappearance, there is no cause for grave alarm.

"Yes, there is concern, and an ongoing search, but it is not one that could be described as a desperate search," said Homeland Security Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse.

U.S. spy satellites have snapped pictures of remote airstrips throughout Africa, starting with ones that are within half a fuel tank's distance from Luanda's "4 de Fevereiro" International Airport. The 28-year-old 727 had taken on 14,000 gallons of A-1 jet fuel shortly before it departed.

U.S. embassy personnel are traveling around Africa to ask host aviation ministries for any sign of the aircraft. "They haven't seen hide nor hair of it," said one government official. "It's so odd."

A large number of people and companies have owned, leased or subleased the aircraft in recent years. U.S. officials say that a few have been involved in shady endeavors. One firm recently involved in owning or leasing it, a U.S. official said, "has a history of allowing aircraft to be used by people for illegal things."

According to the private Airclaims airplane database, the 727's current owner is a Miami-based firm called Aerospace Sales & Leasing Co., which bought it in 2001 after it was flown by American Airlines for decades. In 1997, Aerospace Sales's president, Maury Joseph, was barred from running any publicly traded firm after he was convicted of forging documents and defrauding investors by exaggerating the profits of another company he ran, Florida West Airlines.

Joseph's son, Lance Joseph, said the company has committed no wrong. He said a firm that had leased the plane from Aerospace Sales -- a company whose name he said he couldn't recall -- had removed the seats and replaced them with fuel tanks. It flew the 727 to Luanda with a plan to deliver fuel to remote African airfields, he said.

According to the Airclaims database, a company called Irwin Air had planned to buy the 727 last month. No more information could be learned about the company.

Helder Preza, Angola's aviation director, told the Portuguese radio network RDP that the plane arrived in Luanda in March 2002, but that authorities prevented it from flying on because "the documentation we held did not pertain to the aircraft in question."

Angolan officials also demanded stiff ramp fees as well as settlement of private liens on the 727, Joseph said. Aerospace Sales was settling the disputes and planning to repossess the aircraft and fly it away when the 727 -- one of about 1,100 worldwide -- disappeared, he said.

Joseph also said that in recent months a former Aerospace Sales associate with whom he has had bitter financial disputes, Miami aircraft broker Mike Gabriel, had been in Africa stating that he planned to stop the plane's repossession and make a claim on it.

In the 1980s, Gabriel was convicted of importing 5,000 pounds of marijuana. He did not return messages left at his office requesting comment, and his attorney, Jack Attias, declined to comment.

Preza, the Angolan official, said that "the owner of the aircraft contacted us saying he wished to fly out of Angola." Then, he added, a man who presented himself as "the legitimate representative of the aircraft's owner'' -- a man Preza described as a U.S. citizen but whom he declined to name -- entered the aircraft. Moments later, Preza said, the man flew the plane away.

"The person who flew out the plane was no stranger to the aircraft," Preza said.

Another twist in the case is that the State Department is asking its diplomats in Africa, in searching for the 727, to ask host governments whether they have any information about two men that its cables say "reportedly" own the plane -- Ben Padilla and John Mikel Mutantu. The men are not listed as owners on any public database, and no other information about them was available.

Aviation expert Yates said the plane might never be located. "I suspect it's disappeared into the murky world of African aviation," he said.

Staff researchers Margot Williams and Mary Louise White contributed to this report.

? 2003 The Washington Post Company
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.

Many Options

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.

Copyright ? 2004 ABC News Internet Ventures.


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