Missing Plane Happened Once Before
There is precedent for a missing plane that, in some ways, parallels what is happening now.
In 2003, on a dusty airstrip in Luanda, Angola, two airplane mechanics boarded a Boeing 727. The midsize three-engine jet, tail number 844AA, had been temporarily decommissioned for service repairs. The workers—American flight engineer Ben Charles Padilla and his Congolese helper, John Mikel Mutantu—were there to get the plane ready for its next flight.
According to the air traffic controller on duty at the time, the 153-foot plane began taxiing towards the runway, its engines revving. Neither Padilla nor Mutantu had a pilot’s license, and they certainly did not have clearance to be in the cockpit, let alone fly the plane. The plane’s transponders were turned off. Neither of the mechanics returned calls from the flight’s air traffic controllers.
The Boeing 727, tail number 844A is shown at Chicago O’Hare airport in this undated picture.
Minutes before sunset, with the plane’s headlights turned off, Padilla and Mutantu maneuvered the plane onto the runway and took off.
Air traffic controllers watched as the plane soared above them, heading southwest towards the Atlantic Ocean. Ten years later, the Boeing 844AA still remains an unsolved mystery: It has never been found, and Padilla and Mutantu were never heard from again.