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2003 Boeing 727-223 disappearance (wikipedia.org)
109 points by 67726e on March 10, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 46 comments

In 2009 a boing 737 originating out of Venezuela was purposefully crashed landed in the sahara desert to transport massive amounts of cocaine. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8364383.stm It is rumored that more planes were landed in the desert for similar purposes. Maybe the 727 was used as a one-way drug plane thereafter too?

It seems like they landed it fine but either crashed trying to take off again or just went overboard in demolishing it (when they had 10 tons of cocaine I think they might have been a bit exuberant): http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i6w-doyje...

Cool in-depth story about this: http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-727-that-va...

You really get a sense of how parts of Africa is like the wild west.

That was an exceedingly difficult article to read and understand. I've read a few of these lately - more characters and subplots than a period drama.

I am not sure what the solution to the writing dilemma is - exclude everything but a couple of people central to the story, fill in the rest with sidebars, work in an info-graphic...not sure.

What a fascinating story. It's like the difference between startup life and working for IBM or someplace.

...and the tracking transponder was turned off.

That is interesting. I would have guessed that it be impossible to turn off the transponder on a commercial grade aircraft.

Three of the four aircraft hijacked as part of the 9/11 attacks had their transponders turned off:

> Controllers track airliners such as the four aircraft hijacked on 9/11 primarily by watching the data from a signal emitted by each aircraft's transponder equipment. Those four planes, like all aircraft traveling above 10,000 feet, were required to emit a unique transponder signal while in flight.

> On 9/11, the terrorists turned off the transponders on three of the four hijacked aircraft. With its transponder off, it is possible, though more difficult, to track an aircraft by its primary radar returns. But unlike transponder data, primary radar returns do not show the aircraft's identity and altitude. Controllers at centers rely so heavily on transponder signals that they usually do not display primary radar returns on their radar scopes. But they can change the configuration of their scopes so they can see primary radar returns. They did this on 9/11 when the transponder signals for three of the aircraft disappeared.

[1] http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Ch1.htm

Easy as, the pilots are required to turn the transponder off as soon as they land, so planes on the ground don't show up on radar.

Yes - even worse, having it on close to the runway will trigger TCAS alerts for aircraft on final approach.

I also remember in one of the mayday episodes, that on one aircraft the transponder control was somehow near the foot rest. So it was very common for pilots on this model aircraft to accidentally disable or change transponder codes when they put their feet on the foot rest.

Sorry I don't remember which aircraft model or episode this was.

Old cars used to have the high beam switch down there, a totally reasonable concept. A switch that instantly throws every pilot and controller in the area into panic mode? I want to meet the people who approved that and see what their Pro/Con list looked like.

I believe the transponder code can be changed to a special value to indicate a hijack condition. Perhaps they install a sort of "silent alarm" control to do this?

7500 - hence in light aircraft (with rotary dials to adjust each number) you have to switch the transponder to standby before changing squawk. Prevents briefly sending out a 75/76/7700 as you're rotating through them.

What if it starts blasting out interference, or catches on fire? Everything needs a power switch.

Not having a power switch contributed to an electrical fire on Swissair MDM-11 planes with an upgraded 1st class entertainment system. The entertainment system did not have an off switch, it had bad thermal engineering, and a form of wiring insulation turned out to not be self-extinguishing in real life.

It's still my guess that the Air Malaysia flight was hijacked - transponder off, flew away from radar range and landed somewhere - it had a lot of fuel when it disappeared.

But yeah, transponder is just a piece of equipment. Jumbo jets can't really hide from radar, though, and if you're flying low enough to do so, somebody is going to notice.

If it were simply hijacked and flown "to the edge of radar range" (whatever that means, given the military vessels tracking it in the area independently of the civil air net), you'd expect to see it fly to the edge of radar range then disappear.

But it didn't. The Malay flight disappeared within the radar range of at least two independent radar nets.

That can happen if a plane were bombed or disintegrated mid air. Maybe.

Can you provide some sources for this information? As far as I've been able to tell, the "radar" that news services keep citing is actually the transponder. I've not seen statements that military or other organizations were actually pinging the aircraft with a radar signal from a fixed or airborne antenna.

You're right and I am wrong.

Editing my post.

Edit: Too much time has passed and I can no longer edit my original post. :(

I have to sadly agree that it seems like Malaysia had neither military nor civilian radar watching. Either that or they didn't have it recording.

They have made vague statements about military radar but nothing conclusive.

I thought the vague (or rather clear but soon contradicted) statements about military radar were from Vietnam, which was closer to where contact was lost.

"What we have done is actually look into the recording on the radar that we have and we realised there is a possibility the aircraft did make a turnback," Rodzali Daud, the Royal Malaysian Air Force chief, told reporters at a news conference.


The problem I have with the above statement is that radar is unambiguous. Either the aircraft turned back, continued on, descended rapidly below radar coverage or broke in to bits. They all have different returns so you can't say "it may have possibly..."

> The problem I have with the above statement is that radar is unambiguous. Either the aircraft turned back, continued on, descended rapidly below radar coverage or broke in to bits. They all have different returns so you can't say "it may have possibly..."

Thanks for the specific statement.

I rather have the impression that, especially under less-than-ideal conditions (range, terrain between radar site and target, weather, etc.) radar is not unambiguous.

Also, even if it had disintegrated... Yud expect a radar (were there coverage) to pickup some of the larger bits right? Isn't a portion of 777 fuselage larger than other entire aircraft?

None of that applies here. Range at 35,000 feet for primary radar systems is over 100NM (~190km). It was a clear night over open ocean using a country's primary early warning and defense mechanism situated along the coast.

The US located the cargo door that departed from UA 811 in 1983 using radar analysis to find the part. They could see a 6meter piece of metal fall from the aircraft at 25,000 feet. 100km off shore.

The term "radar" is ambiguous, as authorities and the press use it to refer to both active sweeping radar and the passive transponder system. What they are saying above is that they were recording the transponder trace, and a change in bearing appeared to be in progress when the transponder signal ceased. But no one knows why it ceased.


> Yes, I am Joseph B. Padilla, SR. I live in Pensacola, Florida - U.S.A. I am the Brother of Ben Charles Padilla Jr.

A private plane was stolen from a friend of mine from a hangar in Texas. I think it showed up for sale as a salvage plane with its wings removed. Considering how valuable aircraft are, it seems a bit too economical to bribe hangar personnel.

Fascinating entry on the Talk page from the brother of the missing pilot.

I was unable to find the link. Do you mind providing it?

I don't see any mention of his brother on that page. Am I missing something?

My apologies. I wandered down the Wikipedia k-hole on this one and failed to realize it. The page on the pilot was deleted and merged into a section on the article of the event; the Talk page is here http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Ben_Charles_P...

I don't see any entry from the pilot's brother on there. Am I missing something?

No one says how much fuel was on the 'stolen' 727?

Seems an important piece of information.

the first thing I though was "does Iran use the 727?". according to Wikipedia they do. Iran goes to great lengths to obtain military aircraft parts. does anyone know if commercial airline parts are also embargoed?

Civil aircraft parts are subject to US embargo. There are however, third party suppliers in Russia that can supply parts to Iran. Iran also has domestic parts productions capability.

The US Government sometimes allows limited parts supplies as part of ongoing negotiations.

I think they would just buy the parts on the black market rather than steal entire planes. As a lot of these old airliners are used throughout the third-world, I'm sure there is a brisk trade in parts. The story itself says they raided another crashed plane for the parts, and that the only thing worth anything on the plane was the engines.

Personally I vote for insurance fraud as (1), then theft for parts as (2). Either case doesn't need a 'proper' landing (ie, one where the plane has to take off again). I'm sure there are plenty of places where you could put a plane down if you didn't need to get it back up again, and then strip it for parts. I'm sure the fuselage will turn up somewhere, someday.

[wrong parent - deleted]

Press Y



This seems like a hijack and the Malaysian incident seems like a hijack. How are there not satellite photos of the plane changing course and landing on a freighter or something? That's got to pop on a satellite image somewhere.

Only the smallest civilian turboprop aircraft would have any hope of landing on a flat-top freighter without arresting gear. Even a BAe-146 would require too much landing distance. A Boeing 777 would be much safer ditching close by a freighter and awaiting rescue of passengers from life rafts.

A US Navy Cruiser (Aegis type) has a maximum radar tracking range of about 200-300NM for an airliner. If they were tracking MH370 then they'd have a good idea where it went down. When AF447 disappeared, there was little Naval activity in the region. When TWA800 went down, the US Navy turned over volumes of radar data to investigators that somewhat confirmed how the aircraft broke apart.

> How are there not satellite photos of the plane changing course and landing on a freighter or something?

(1) Because a 777 has only a slightly better chance of landing on a freighter as a snowball has of landing -- still frozen -- on the surface of the sun, and

(2) Because there isn't satellite video being recorded of every point on the Earth's surface, including the oceans, 24/7, contrary to what one might infer from certain kinds of (deliberately fictional) movies and TV shows.

I guess I didn't mean it literally landed on a freighter, but something similar; like a small island or something. But it looks like it would've popped up on somebodies radar at some point before it landed.

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