Here's more on the "unsolved mysteries" aspects of the crash:
Questions Arise Over W. Africa Jet Crash
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: January 2, 2004 [Filed at 9:22 p.m. ET]
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- American authorities are investigating whether a
Boeing 727 shattered in a deadly Christmas Day crash off West Africa was the
same jet that vanished in Angola last year, setting off a worldwide search,
a U.S. State Department spokesman said Friday.
Also, a Canadian humanitarian-flight pilot told The Associated Press he saw
a 727 with the missing Angola jet's tail number at Guinea's airport in June
-- a month after the jet's disappearance.
The plane's old tail number was not fully covered, and the plane was
reregistered in Guinea and flown by Lebanese-owned Union des Transports
Africains, pilot Bob Strothers said.
The Missing 727
The Cotonou (Benin) Crash 727
``We saw it on the ramp,'' Strothers said by telephone from the Guinea
capital, Conakry. ``A new registration had been painted on the aluminum
part, and underneath ... you could see the old registration number, which
matches the plane that went missing.''
The plane that crashed off Benin on Christmas Day, killing at least 130 of
the 161 people aboard, was Guinean-registered and operated by Union des
Strothers said he believed UTA had at least two Boeing 727s at the time of
the crash, making it impossible for him to judge whether the vanished Angola
plane and the crashed Benin jet were the same.
Strothers first disclosed his information before the Christmas Day crash, in
which the plane, carrying mostly Lebanese, clipped a building at the end of
the runway and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean.
The information heightened the mystery surrounding the missing jet, which
took off from an airport in Luanda, Angola, on May 25 and disappeared.
The United States has led an international hunt for the Angola 727, using
satellite surveillance to check airstrips around the world, fearing that
terrorists might have taken the Angola plane for a Sept. 11-style attack.
American officials also have cited a possible business dispute as a reason
for the disappearance of the Angola jet.
Lebanese news media on Friday suggested the two planes were the same.
But aviation officials in Lebanon and others there who are knowledgeable
about the country's aviation industry discounted the idea -- telling the AP
that the plane that crashed off Benin appeared much older than the one that
went missing from Angola.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said, ``We're aware of
the reports. We're checking into them.''
UTA offices in Guinea and in Lebanon have been deserted since the Christmas
Day crash, with police surrounding the Guinea offices.
The airline's owner survived the Christmas Day crash, but he and the plane's
Libyan pilot have not been seen publicly since leaving the hospital.
In Guinea, transport officials said they investigated Strothers' report that
the planes were the same and found it to be false.
``He was mistaken,'' senior aviation deputy Dominique Mara said. ``This
wasn't the plane from Luanda. The Transport Ministry has denied this
Also, the FBI has put out a worldwide alert for American Ben Charles
Padilla, who allegedly was seen boarding the Angola jet with another man
just before it disappeared.
According to Padilla's family in Florida, he was hired to repossess the jet
after Air Angola failed to make lease payments.
His sister, Benita Padilla-Kirkland, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel she
feared the plane crashed or the 51-year-old Padilla was being held against