N844AA (serial number 20985) was manufactured in 1975 and formerly owned by American Airlines. A Miami-based company called Aerospace Sales & Leasing Co. was reported to be its last owner. While on lease to TAAG Angola Airlines it had been grounded and sat idle at Luanda for 14 months, accruing more than $4 million in backdated airport fees, and was one of two at Quatro de Fevereiro in the process of being converted for use by IRS Airlines. The FBI described it as "...unpainted silver in colour 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."
The Conakry sighting is disputed as another ex-American Airlines 727 with registration number N862AA was re-registered in Guinea as 3X-GDM and based there until it was destroyed in the UTA Flight 141 accident at Cadjehoun Airport in Cotonou, Benin.
Some reports suggest there was only one person on board the aircraft at the time; other reports suggest there may have been more than one. When the aircraft started taxiing down the runway, the control tower tried to make contact, but there was no response, and the tracking transponder was turned off.
Some reports describe the aircraft as making abrupt changes in direction while on the taxiways and during take-off, leading to some speculation that there may have been a struggle on board during the possible theft.
Ben Charles Padilla
Ben Charles Padilla (born 1952) from Pensacola, Florida, a licensed aircraft mechanic, flight engineer, and pilot of small airplanes was aboard N844AA when it was stolen, and is believed by U.S. authorities to have been at the controls. He has not been seen or heard from since.
Padilla had arrived in Angola two months before the disappearance, to supervise work on N844AA on behalf of Aerospace Sales & Leasing with the intention of repossessing the aircraft.
Padilla's sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper that her family suspects Padilla was flying the aircraft and fear that he subsequently crashed somewhere on the African continent or is being held against his will.
- Aircraft N844AA Profile
- N843AA and N844AA at Luanda
- FBI Seeking Information - Ben Charles Padilla
- The Scotsman
- "Mystery Boeing briefly resurfaces after disappearance". The Sydney Morning Herald. July 8, 2003.
- "Counter Terrorism, page 5". QSL.Net. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
- Plane disappears after mystery take-off - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
- Missing jet linked to terrorism: Africa: News: News24
- "Into thin air". The Sydney Morning Herald. August 15, 2003.
- The Charley Project: Ben Charles Padilla Jr
- "African hunt for stolen Boeing". BBC News. June 19, 2003. Retrieved May 19, 2010.
- Worldandnation: Out of Africa, into thin air: A jet vanishes
- In Angola, a JetLiner Vanishes
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