The largest aircraft ever to have disappeared without a trace.
September 15, 2010 6:53 AM   Subscribe

The 727 that Vanished. Interesting article that recounts a mystery still unsolved. Prev, from 2003.
posted by allkindsoftime (39 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating story - thanks for posting it!
posted by jquinby at 7:00 AM on September 15, 2010


Six pages? Sheesh. Could someone paraphrase that for us?

Business deal to fly fuel in Africa, high hopes, money, confusion, confusion, money gets pissed away on 1,450 different airport fees, confusion, shady character, shady character, more confusion, airplane goes missing. Some guy from Florida with a half dozen wives goes missing as well Nobody knows what happened to either of them. FBI panicked about terrorists with a stolen airliner, but finally threw their hands up in frustration and forgot about it.

That's about the best I can do.
posted by Naberius at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


tl;dr - a slog through the sordid details behind the disappearance of a 727 that has never since been found. One of the men suspected of being on the flight is assumed to be in jail in Nigeria, the other has never been located. It remains the largest aircraft to ever disappear without a trace.

Sometimes an interesting story is worth the 10 minutes / 6 pages, but I suppose that presupposition is ever more waning in our internet era.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


oh cool! I needed something to read on a train ride today. Thanks!
posted by vacapinta at 7:32 AM on September 15, 2010


Could someone paraphrase that for us?
posted by mikelieman at 7:33 AM on September 15, 2010


Six pages? Sheesh. Could someone paraphrase that for us?

Seriously? This is the kind of shit I expect from other websites, but Metafilter? This is the place that has the best and most informative posts, often totalling tens of pages of awesome information. Six pages is nothing, especially with something as interesting as a 727 disappearing into thin air.

I found it interesting that the story gave so much opportunity for Ben Padilla's sister and brother to constantly voice their opinions. Did anyone else notice that his sister also showed up in the comments constantly? It was heartbreaking to listen to her talk about her brother still being alive, some seven years later.
posted by kurosawa's pal at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2010 [15 favorites]


First read the post thinking 7 hundred and 27 people had vanished?! Relieved that isn't the case. Yes, it's an interesting story.

Needed to see Ben Charles Padilla Jr..

Seconding the thought: It's extraordinarily troubling that you can literally disappear off the face of the Earth once you are airborne and fly across a continent like Africa.

Wikipedia on the plane, N844AA

His brother's website about the case.
posted by nickyskye at 7:39 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is cool! Thanks for posting.

Sometimes an interesting story is worth the 10 minutes / 6 pages, but I suppose that presupposition is ever more waning in our internet era.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:29 AM on September 15 [has favorites -] [!]


Eponysterical!
posted by brundlefly at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's extraordinarily troubling that you can literally disappear off the face of the Earth once you are airborne and fly across a continent like Africa.

I kind of like the idea actually. I mean, not that I'd ever want to have a reason that I'd have to do it out of necessity, but the idea that disappearing is a possibility is kind of vaguely intriguing.

Of course, it is indeed troubling if your name happens to be Osama.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:51 AM on September 15, 2010


Well worth reading. We usually experience these aircraft protected by the formality and ritual of flying a major airline. This is a glipse into another world, where hot rod aircraft types casually switch out jet engines, scavange parts from wrecks, and take 'em out to gun the engines for a systems check. Oh yeah, and spiral down to avoid small arms fire.
posted by Faze at 7:54 AM on September 15, 2010


...and, dangling from the pilot's yoke, was a razor-sharp hook.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


> Six pages? Sheesh. Could someone paraphrase that for us?

Jesus. You've been around long enough to know better than to make pointless gripes like that. Run along to usatoday.com.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2010


I've not read the article yet, but the plane-stripping scene in The Lord of War springs to mind. Now that's how you disappear a plane!
posted by jontyjago at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


The weirdest thing about this to me? I'm pretty sure I flew on that plane when it was still owned by AA.
posted by wierdo at 8:22 AM on September 15, 2010


> I'm pretty sure I flew on that plane when it was still owned by AA.

How would you know? Unless you have a habit of noting tail numbers, it was probably indistinguishable from hundreds of other 727s in their fleet.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2010


Hold on....

An unlicensed jet that was hastily-retrofitted into a fuel carrier, was allowed to take off without clearance (or a trained pilot), and nobody raised an eyebrow until long after the fact, and I still can't carry contact lens solution on a plane.

Priorities, guys. Priorities.

They've made sure that this can't happen again, right?
posted by schmod at 8:30 AM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


In some forgotten place a cargo cult has been absolutely vindicated.
posted by Babblesort at 8:44 AM on September 15, 2010 [6 favorites]


6 pages? WTF? Use Twitter, dood.

"In 2003 a 727 disappears with no trace in Angola. Conspiracy! Intrigue! Rly! US gvt claims no involvement. Srsly USA??"
posted by jeremias at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2010


Well worth reading. We usually experience these aircraft protected by the formality and ritual of flying a major airline. This is a glipse into another world, where hot rod aircraft types casually switch out jet engines, scavange parts from wrecks, and take 'em out to gun the engines for a systems check. Oh yeah, and spiral down to avoid small arms fire.

This was really fascinating. My partner's brother is a second officer on 727s. He describes them as extremely tough overbuilt jets. He likened them to Battlestar Galactica - simple mechanics, not a lot of computerisation, built like a brick shithouse.

Apparently, 757s are similarly overbuilt and overpowered.
posted by generichuman at 8:55 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


> He describes them as extremely tough overbuilt jets. He likened them to Battlestar Galactica -

Xenu should've chosen Boeing, then.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:57 AM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


Hit post too soon.

I was going to say what I find interesting is that in the highly sanitized and standardized world of commercial passenger flying, there isn't much perceived difference between planes for a passenger. A seat on a 777 is pretty much like a seat on an A330.

When you put an airplane into conditions like this design differences become apparent. Some planes are tough, some aren't.
posted by generichuman at 8:58 AM on September 15, 2010


That's about the best I can do.

Naberius, that is still over seventy words. Please reconsider your generosity with my time.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:59 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Burhanistan wrote: "How would you know? Unless you have a habit of noting tail numbers, it was probably indistinguishable from hundreds of other 727s in their fleet."

I do. And I've flown on a lot of AA 727s. About the only equipment of theirs I haven't flown on many times is the 777. I've only had three or four occasions to fly on those.
posted by wierdo at 9:01 AM on September 15, 2010


> I was going to say what I find interesting is that in the highly sanitized and standardized world of commercial passenger flying, there isn't much perceived difference between planes for a passenger. A seat on a 777 is pretty much like a seat on an A330.


I've never flown on an A330, but a 777 has a very distinct feel to it. Once the pilot levels off and puts the throttle on cruising speed, all of the engineered harmonics start to work and everything is just smooooth.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:01 AM on September 15, 2010


Xenu should've chosen Boeing, then.

I sure as hell wouldn't have chosen a DC-8. Those things are ass ugly.
posted by generichuman at 9:02 AM on September 15, 2010


I've never flown on an A330, but a 777 has a very distinct feel to it. Once the pilot levels off and puts the throttle on cruising speed, all of the engineered harmonics start to work and everything is just smooooth.

I'd actually agree with you, but I'm the kind of colossal plane nerd who notes down the tail numbers of the planes he flies on.

Slight derail, I find the A330s buzz more on takeoff compared to the Boeing roar. A little more quiet in flight. That all might be down to the engine choice of the airline, though.
posted by generichuman at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2010


Oh, and I don't know about overbuilt, but yes, the 757 is overpowered. They can (although often don't, now that airlines are big on saving fuel) take off ridiculously fast.

Besides, how many other twins can do a single engine takeoff?
posted by wierdo at 9:07 AM on September 15, 2010


Anyway, I'd like to think that 727 had a full load of stolen blood diamonds or something and in 2110 some salvage divers will hit the mother lode.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2010


First paragraph: "She believes she has the “new information” agents told her they require."

I read all six pages waiting for this new information, but got to the end and all that we got was "The new information she passed along to the FBI was a possible sighting of the aircraft, one of many reported over the years.". And then "I found [...] no real clues to the aircraft’s destination that day in 2003."

Thanks for the tease, Smithsonian.
posted by Plutor at 9:47 AM on September 15, 2010


Besides, how many other twins can do a single engine takeoff?

All of 'em. It's a certification requirement in case you lose one engine during takeoff run and it is too close to the end of the runway to stop.
The requirement is that all airliners must be able to take of with one engine inoperable. For this reason twin engined planes are always more overpowered than four engine planes since it must be able to lose half of all power whereas going from four to three only loses one fourth the power.
posted by Catfry at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


I dunno, there seems to be a nonchalance at how erratically planes are disassembled, albeit, not uncommon in the maritime shipping industry either.

Somehow all "Bermuda triangle" missing plane stories of my youth seem less mysterious now.

Conceivable that cannibalization of all manner of ready-to-retire transportation vehicles could be done this way for parts profit in some remote locale, once thusly stripped, then ditched for the remainder of the insurance loss.

Along with all that shadiness, disappearing a hapless human amongst all that.

At any rate there's more good lore at this forum on the mystery.

Excellent read, allkindsoftime !
posted by uncorq at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2010


L O S T

... H O R I Z O N
posted by unregistered_animagus at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2010


Fascinating story, but I didn't pick up on the specific terrorism angle from the fuel tanks until
this quote from his brother at the end of the IASA article: "But as an American, I want it found because this plane has 10 500-gallon fuel tanks."

The internet tells me that a 727-200 (of which the 727-223 is presumably a variant?) has a fuel capacity of 8-9000 gallons of fuel, so it doesn't really seem like another 50% of fuel makes this that much more of a fantastic tool for terrorists. The internet also tells me that various widebodies have much greater fuel capacity.

Was any credible specific terrorism concern something about ease of stealing it and filling it up with another 5000 gallons of fuel and flying it into an African city, or just silly hysteria? Hard to believe that any unknown airliner is getting anywhere near first world these days.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2010


This story is great because 727s are big. They're bigger than cars, they're bigger than squash courts, and they're bigger than my apartment, all of which are difficult to disappear (v. tr.). A 727 is something you notice behind the aged. And 10500 gallons isn't an inconsiderable volume of fuel. You notice when someone orders 10500 gallons of fuel. And planes are rare. Manufacturers keep track of what their planes are up to.

But this is old. It'd be more exciting if it was happening right now! Because, realistically, they ain't gon' find it this long after.
posted by doublehappy at 1:22 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aged = shed. Autocorrect.
posted by doublehappy at 2:11 PM on September 15, 2010


Xenu should've chosen Boeing, then.

I sure as hell wouldn't have chosen a DC-8. Those things are ass ugly.


Ah, but Terl does fly Boeing.
posted by Skeptic at 3:18 PM on September 15, 2010


Catfry wrote: "All of 'em. It's a certification requirement in case you lose one engine during takeoff run and it is too close to the end of the runway to stop."

I thought the requirement was that you be able to take off if one engine goes out at or above V1. The 757 was once demonstrated by Boeing to be able to do a one engine takeoff from a dead stop at 11,000 feet asl. Not that I would recommend it in any event. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:11 PM on September 15, 2010


Good read, I really enjoyed it although the writing could use some polish. I guess any story involving unsavory types engaged in flipped businesses is always interesting.
posted by jsavimbi at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2010


I thought the requirement was that you be able to take off if one engine goes out at or above V1.

This is correct afaik.
And no doubt about it the 757 is more overpowered than most. I'd think the problem with making an entire takeoff with a single engine would be directional control due to the asymmetrical thrust, rather than power.
posted by Catfry at 12:43 PM on September 16, 2010


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