In 2003, two men boarded a 727 in Angola, after working on the aircraft to restore it to flying condition. The men started the engines, and without
communicating with anyone taxied onto the runway, and took off. That was the last anyone has seen of the plane.
The aircraft was originally purchased by Keith Irwin in 2002. He originally had arranged to lease a 727 and two flight crews to fly fuel to diamond
mines in Angola. That deal fell through and he arranged to purchase N844AA for $1M. He put down a deposit of $125,000 and was to pay the balance in
30 days. The seats were removed, and tanks were added, and the aircraft was flown to Africa, which is where trouble started.
There were no landing permits, so it took almost two weeks to get to Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport, where his partners were supposed to
pay $220,000. Instead they made excuses about the money. The crew were kept in miserable conditions and were required to surrender their passports.
One crew member eventually made up a family emergency and more or less fled the country. A total of 17 flights were eventually made, and one crew
member stated it was as bad or worse than flying into a war zone. A crew member that worked on the plane said that at one airport another 727 crashed
just before they arrived. The crew survived and they lifted them out, but first went over to the wreckage and stole parts they needed.
Ben Charles Padilla was eventually hired to help repossess the aircraft, and traveled to Angola. There are many conflicting stories about him. Jeff
Swain says that Padilla worked for him in Indonesia and they fired him, and after he ran up a $10,000 hotel bill and said the airline would pay it,
they deported him. Several people stated that he showed them pictures of a family and said he was supporting a wife and children, but the country
they were in kept changing.
In May 2003, Padilla was working with Air Gemini to return the aircraft to service. He had hired a crew to fly the aircraft to South Africa, where a
customer was waiting. The day before they were supposed to leave with the aircraft, he made arrangements to take the aircraft out to do an engine run
and final checks. That's when he departed with the aircraft and vanished.
The search was on and multiple countries were on the look out for the aircraft, as well as for evidence of a crash in the Atlantic, but no sign of the
aircraft was ever found.
Seven years after her brother disappeared from Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport in Angola, Benita Padilla-Kirkland is trying to persuade
the FBI to re-open his 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.
Kirkland’s brother, Ben Charles Padilla, a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot, disappeared while working in the Angolan
capital, Luanda, for Florida-based Aerospace Sales and Leasing. On May 25, 2003, shortly before sunset, Padilla boarded the company’s Boeing
727-223, tail number N844AA. With him was a helper he had recently hired, John Mikel Mutantu, from the Republic of the Congo. The two had been working
with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status so they could reclaim it from a business deal gone bad, but neither could fly it.
Mutantu was not a pilot, and Padilla had only a private pilot’s license. A 727 ordinarily requires three trained aircrew.
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.