Terrorism: July 7, 2003

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Following-up on the June 13 report about the missing Boeing 727-200, a British newspaper carried Canadian pilot Bob Strother's report that the plane was spotted on June 28 in Guinea's capital Conakry. It had been repainted and given the Guinean registration 3XGOM, but at least the last two letters of its former tail-number, N844AA, were still showing. The plane was reportedly now owned by a member of West Africa's Lebanese business community, used to shuttle goods between Beirut and Conakry. Since being sighted, the plane has again taken off for an unknown destination.

However, there is growing doubt amongst Africa's pilots that this Conakry Boeing is the same aircraft as the missing 727-200.

Helder Preza, director of Angola's civil aviation authority, told the press that an American named Ben Padilla approached authorities a month before the plane disappeared and claimed that the owner wanted to take the plane out of Angola. The Angolans didn't have a problem with that, as long as Padilla first paid $50,000 in fees for the year the aircraft sat in Angola and provided proof Air Angola approved.

However, the brother of Ben Charles Padilla, Jr.'s claims that Ben had been in Angola for two months overseeing a crew of aircraft mechanics re-working the plane from one end to the other. It was while during this maintenance work that Padilla and another man were seen boarding the plane just before it took off. The transponder was disengaged and the plane flew away without a trace. Padilla's brother remains convinced that his brother is dead, murdered by whoever got into the plane with him. Ben Padilla had a pilots license, but not for an aircraft as large as a 727, and only fired up the 727s engines to taxi around the runway to insure that the engines and landing gear were working properly.

An unnamed western diplomat in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown considered it
more likely that the plane had simply been snatched from Luanda because 
the owner was reluctant to pay year-long airport taxes, but Ben Padilla had paid those the day before he, and the 727, disappeared. - Adam Geibel

 

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