For those suggesting that the disappearance of Flight 370 is unparalleled in aviation history, Vocativ would like to remind them that another large Boeing jet took off from an airstrip in Angola in 2003 and hasn’t been seen since.
Big difference: That jet had no passengers aboard, but the circumstances surrounding its disappearance are pretty strange nonetheless. Two mechanics—American Ben Charles Padilla and Congolese assistant John Mikel Mutantu—boarded the Boeing 727 on a Luanda airstrip to get it in shape for its next flight.
Neither had a pilot’s license, which is why flight controllers were stunned when the plane taxied to the runway and then took off.
Leased to deliver diesel fuel to diamond mines, the 727 carried 10 500-gallon fuel tanks and a few passenger seats in its cabin.
Was it Padilla? Mutantu? Both? Hijackers who had slipped aboard? Investigators still don’t know, and no sign of the plane has turned up despite an intense international hunt.
Some of the theories being tossed around in regard to Flight 370—it crashed into the ocean, it landed secretly, it got shot down by some nation’s military—were similarly floated back then.
But “we never knew for sure where it went,” concluded an earlier investigation by Air & Space magazine. It was at the time the largest aircraft to go missing, but the Malaysian jet will take that distinction if it doesn’t turn up.
After her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland tried to persuade the FBI to re-open his case. In 2005, the FBI had closed its 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
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.
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.”