SLUG: 2-304263 Angola / Missing Plane (L-O)
TITLE=ANGOLA / MISSING PLANE (L ONLY)
INTRO: Authorities in Africa and the United States are looking for a Boeing 7-2-7 jet missing from Angola since late last month under suspicious circumstances. V-O-A National Security Correspondent Alex Belida reports U-S officials suspect the disappearance may be criminal in nature but they cannot rule out the possibility of a terrorist connection.
TEXT: The Boeing 7-2-7 has been missing since it took off under mysterious circumstances from Luanda airport in the southwest African country of Angola more than two weeks ago. U-S government officials tell V-O-A it was last heard of requesting landing permission in the Seychelles off the coast of East Africa but never arrived there.
These officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the aircraft's disappearance looks like a criminal act.
But with memories still fresh of the bloody September 11th terrorist plane hijackings in the United States almost two years ago, the officials say they have to remain open to the possibility that terrorism may be involved in the case of the vanishing 7-2-7.
Authorities in Angola say the plane took off illegally on Sunday, May 25th. The country's minister of transportation later indicated the aircraft's disappearance would lead to stepped-up security at Luanda airport.
The plane was brought to Angola by a firm called Air Angola. According to V-O-A's Portuguese service, that firm is owned by a group of current and former high-ranking military officials.
However the Boeing 7-2-7 had been parked idle at the airport for more than a year for non-payment of some four-million dollars in fees to Angola's airport authority.
Some U-S officials say they suspect the plane may have been flown off to avoid repossession. Others tell V-O-A they believe it may have been crashed for insurance purposes.
According to the U-S Federal Aviation Administration, the plane was built in 1975. Although it was originally operated by American Airlines, according to F-A-A records, its latest registered owner was an aircraft leasing firm based in Miami, Florida.
///OPT/// Efforts to contact the firm were unsuccessful. The telephone number for the company has been disconnected.
///OPT/// An F-A-A spokesman had no new information on the plane or the firm. He told V-O-A firms are legally obliged to inform the agency of address changes and any transfers in aircraft ownership. But the spokesman conceded that does not always happen and he could not rule out the possibility the plane may have been sold to foreign owners. ///END OPT///
Curiously, despite the F-A-A records, other U-S government officials said the plane belongs to an American who lives in South Africa who leased the aircraft to others. These officials provided no additional details. (Signed)
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