On 25 May 2003, a Boeing 727-220, registered N844AA, was stolen at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola. Its disappearance prompted a worldwide search by the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). No trace of the aircraft has since been found. Still lost and it is March, 2019.

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The aircraft involved was a Boeing 727-200 manufactured in 1975 and formerly operated by American Airlines who operated the aircraft for 25 years. Its last owner was reported to be Miami-based company Aerospace Sales & Leasing. While on lease to TAAG Angola Airlines it had been grounded and sat idle at Luanda for 14 months, accruing more than $4 million in unpaid airport fees, and was one of two at Quatro de Fevereiro in the process of being converted for use by IRS Airlines. The FBI described it as “…unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and red. The [aircraft] was formerly in the air fleet of a major airline, but all of the passenger seats have been removed. It is outfitted to carry diesel fuel.”

It is believed that shortly before sunset (likely to be 5PM local time) on May 25, 2003, two men boarded the aircraft. One of them was an American pilot and flight engineer, Ben C. Padilla. The other, John M. Mutantu, was a hired mechanic from the Republic of the Congo. Neither of the two were certified to fly a Boeing 727, which normally requires three aircrew. Both men had been working with Angolan mechanics to get the aircraft flight-ready. Padilla is believed by U.S. authorities to have been at the controls. An airport employee reported only seeing one person on board the aircraft at the time; other airport officials stated that two men had boarded the aircraft before the incident.

Photography source unknown
Image dipects Boeing production

The Boeing 727 design was a compromise among United Airlines, American Airlines, and Eastern Air Lines; each of the three had developed requirements for a jet airliner to serve smaller cities with shorter runways and fewer passengers. United Airlines requested a four-engine aircraft for its flights to high-altitude airports, especially its hub at Stapleton International Airport in Denver, Colorado. American Airlines, which was operating the four-engined Boeing 707 and Boeing 720, requested a twin-engined aircraft for efficiency. Eastern Airlines wanted a third engine for its overwater flights to the Caribbean, since at that time twin-engine commercial flights were limited by regulations to routes with 60-minute maximum flying time to an airport (see ETOPS). Eventually, the three airlines agreed on a trijet design for the new aircraft.

The aircraft began taxiing without communicating with the control tower. It manoeuvred erratically and entered a runway without clearance. The tower officers tried to make contact, but there was no response. With no lights the aircraft took off, heading southwest over the Atlantic Ocean before disappearing. Before the incident the aircraft was filled with 53000 litres of fuel, giving it a range of about 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi). Neither the aircraft nor the two men have been found. Unlike other plane disappearances, no debris has been found in the ocean from the aircraft.

Ben C. Padilla’s sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper in 2004 that her family suspected that he was flying the aircraft and feared that he subsequently crashed somewhere in Africa or was being held against his will.

In July 2003 a possible sighting of the missing aircraft was reported in Conakry, Guinea, and subsequently conclusively dismissed by the United States Department of State.

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

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

On June 8, 2017 a PA-28-161 Warrior II was en route from Cranbrook to Kamloops and disappeared in the British Columbia Interior. No sign of it till today. Jet and military piracy is still a thing.