In Search of a Vanished 727

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This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, August 26, 2003. Watch On the Record  weeknights at 10 p.m. ET.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Over the past months, we have been reporting about a missing 727 (search) jetliner that vanished from a runway in Africa. Two different sightings of this jet turned out to be wrong.

Joining us from Mobile, Alabama, is the missing pilot's sister, Benita Padilla.

Also with us is John Mintz (search) of The Washington Post, who's been covering this story.

John, where is this 727? What does the government say?

JOHN MINTZ, THE WASHINGTON POST: Greta, nobody knows where this 727 is, but the government — after months of hard work of looking for it all over Africa — has some theories.

The government has mostly ruled out the possibility that terrorists took it away. That was their greatest fear. Their leading theories now are that it was either stripped for parts in some hidden hangar or that it simply crashed, most likely in the ocean, but possibly on some remote mountainside.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, it's hard to understand, though, John. I mean if they don't know what happened to it and they simply have theories, how can they rule out terrorists? Let's face it. Usama bin Laden, speaking hypothetically, could have built some huge hangar in the Sudan or in some other country that might be friendly towards him, and it could be sitting there.

MINTZ: You're absolutely height. They can't rule out terrorism, but they have really put on a full-court press here with U.S. diplomats fanning out to aviation ministries all over Africa and some parts of Asia, even in Latin America, looking at airfields and having agents of theirs from those various countries check around at airports everywhere. They haven't found anything. They've found no evidence of it.

So they just have a feeling that this thing crashed. There are some other circumstances that lead them to that as well. One of them is that the man they believe piloted it away, a man named Ben Padilla (search), was not a great expert at piloting 727s.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let's ask his sister. She's here.

Benita, your brother, who is the pilot on this 727 — could he fly them?

BENITA PADILLA, SISTER OF MISSING PILOT: My brother was not licensed to fly a 727. He's actually licensed to fly small aircraft as well as a licensed… mechanic and flight engineer. So, no, he could not fly this 727.

VAN SUSTEREN: Benita, has the FBI And the State Department provided any information where they think your brother might be?

PADILLA: No, they do not know. They are completely confounded as to what could have happened to him, and I know they have been searching diligently, actually a worldwide search trying to find my brother and his whereabouts….

One thing I wanted to reiterate, too, is that the government — the United States officials have actually indicated that they know that my brother has not committed any type of wrongdoing and no criminal act or anything, and, that actually, he is a victim in this entire circumstance. I think he's been kidnapped. He's been kidnapped.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, you've been dogging this case. In fact, I've got to give you credit. You know, I read your stories every time you write something on this.

MINTZ: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: You seem to be the only one on top of this, and I'm fascinated by it. There was a spotting, though. A Canadian pilot thought he might have spotted this plane a while ago. Has that been discounted?

MINTZ: That has been discounted. There was a Canadian pilot who works for charity in West Africa who thought that he spotted it in the airport in the West African country of Guinea.

The plane that he was looking at had a fresh coat of paint on top of it, and he thought he saw the tail number of the plane that's missing beneath that coat of paint. That plane he that was observing was flown back and forth by its Lebanese owner to Beirut.

U.S. officials tracked it down to Beirut and concluded that it was not the right plane.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Well, John, I'm going to continue checking your stories because you seem to be the only one on top of this, who's dogging this, so...

MINTZ: Thank you.

VAN SUSTEREN: John, thank you very much.

Benita, I hope we get some good news on your brother. Thank you as well.

PADILLA: Well, thank you. I appreciate your diligence in following this story.

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