Ben Charles Padilla Jr.

Padilla, circa 2003; Airplane similar to the missing plane

  • Missing Since 05/25/2003
  • Missing From Luanda, Angola
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Age 50 years old
  • Height and Weight 6'2, unknown weight
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian male. Brown hair, brown eyes.

Details of Disappearance

Padilla, a U.S. citizen from Pensacola, Florida, was overseeing rebuilding work on a Boeing 727 airplane at the DeFevereiro International Airport in Angola in 2003. The plane had been there for two years. Padilla had been working there for two months; his duties included supervising the team of mechanics. He was also going to hire a pilot and co-pilot once the plane was in flyable condition.

Padilla is a licensed aircraft mechanic, flight engineer, and pilot of small airplanes, but he is not licensed to fly a 727 and has never flown a plane that large. He was going to be the flight engineer when it took to the air. The company that owned the plane was going to repossess it from Air Angola, which had failed to make its lease payments, and fly it to South Africa.

Maury Joseph, the president Aerospace Sales & Leasing Co. which owned the plane, visited the site two weeks before Padilla disappeared to see how things were going. He gave Padilla $43,000 to pay holding fees to the airport. He paid the fees and faxed the receipt to Joseph.

On May 25, 2003, at approximately 6:00 p.m., the 727 took off without clearance or a flight plan, and has not been seen since. A photograph of a plane similar to the missing one is posted with this case summary. It is described as a 28-year-old 200 series 727 with a tail number of N844AA, and a serial number of 20985, unpainted silver in color with a stripe of blue, white, and blue.

The plane was formerly in the American Airlines passenger air fleet, but all of the passenger seats have been removed and replaced with fuel containers. The plane was outfitted to carry diesel fuel and had taken on 14,000 gallons of A-1 jet fuel shortly before it departed.

Padilla disappeared at the same time as the plane and is believed to have been on it when it took off. John Mikel Mutantu, another crew member from the Congo, is also believed to have been on the plane. Further information about Mutantu is unavailable.

The plane may have originally been headed in the direction of Burkina Faso. Its last radio contact was to ask for landing permission in the Seychelles, an island nation in the Indian Ocean east of Africa. The plane never actually attempted to land there.

Padilla's brother believes he did not leave voluntarily and that the plane may have been hijacked by terrorists. He claims that he and Padilla discussed the possibility that this might happen, and Padilla said he would crash the plane rather than fly it anywhere against his will. Based on his memory of this conversation, Padilla's brother believes he was either killed or is being held prisoner somewhere.

Joseph agrees with this theory; he does not think Padilla stole the plane either. He doesn't have a history of criminal behavior. It is worth noting, however, that Joseph himself has been convicted of forging documents and defrauding investors by exaggerating the profits of another company he ran. American authorities believe that the plane was stolen as part of a financial scam or possibly a business dispute.

Three American agencies, the FBI, NSA, and CIA, , are all looking for Padilla, Mutantu, and the plane. The United Kingdom and several African nations are also searching. In the summer of 2003, a plane was found in Papua New Guinea, and rumors spread that it was the missing 727, but this turned out not to be the case.

Padilla and Mutantu's cases remain unsolved. The circumstances surrounding their disappearances are unclear. The Charley Project is profiling Padilla because of his United States citizenship.

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