Has anyone seen our missing Boeing 727?

Where do you hide a 153ft long, 100-ton passenger jet?

That's the question taxing the CIA, FBI and several African nations who are trying to track down a thief who coolly made off with a Boeing 727. The plane had been sitting unused on it's airport parking space in the Angolan capital Luanda for 14 months when it was taken. Aviation authorities grounded the former American Airlines jet, now owned by a Miami-based firm, after paperwork problems. Aerospace Sales and Leasing was in the process of resolving them when the 28-year-old plane vanished three weeks ago. A man claiming to represent the owners turned up at the busy international airport and got aboard. After fuelling, the plane started taxiing down the runway. The control tower radioed the pilot for an explanation but there was no reply, even after the jet took off. It has not been seen since. US embassy staff have been scouring Africa, asking aviation ministries for any sign of the aircraft. 'They haven't seen hide nor hair of it,'' said one US government official. 'It's so odd'. The mystery has prompted all kinds of speculation - including fears that terrorists could use the aircraft for a September 11-style atrocity. The CIA has used spy satellites to examine remote airstrips across the continent, starting with ones within half a fuel tank's distance of Luanda. Chris Yates, editor of Jane's Aviation, said: 'I haven't come across this before in 22 years in this business. 'Is is not a stretch of the imagination to think this plane could end up in the hands of terrorists. A number of companies involved in gun running and other crimes in Africa have indirect ties to terrorist groups.' US Authorities believe the aircraft might have been taken as part of a business dispute or financial scam. Until they can be sure, they will just have to carry on searching...

The Metro, Thursday, June 19, 2003



Last updated: 24 June, 2003 15:01