July 7, 2003 -- Six weeks after a Boeing 727 disappeared from an African airfield, provoking fears it might be used in another Sept. 11 -style attack, intelligence officials say they're starting to develop promising leads on the plane's whereabouts.
A military intelligence official told ABCNEWS there is reliable information the plane was in the West African country of Guinea, but added officials do not have a reliable read on its current location.
An intelligence official from outside the Pentagon said photographs of a repainted 727 in Guinea had sparked interest.
Earlier today, two Pentagon officials said the plane had been located, although they did not say where it had been found. They said the aircraft had been given a bad paint job that did a poor job of obscuring its old tail number.
The two Pentagon officials told ABCNEWS that the U.S. military had not seized the plane, but was watching the aircraft to determine what is was being used for.
There has been some disagreement in the intelligence community on whether the plane under discussion is actually the missing plane. The FBI said it have no official conformation on the plane's identity.
"The plane is still unlocated … Our people are aware of the [information that the aircraft miay been found] report … we are looking into it, but we can't substantiate those claims," another intelligence official told ABCNEWS.
The CIA also said it was not yet confident enough to confirm the locating of missing 727, which took off from an Angola airfield on May 25 and simply disappeared.
What About the Pilot?
The fate of the suspected pilot, Benjamin Padilla, is unknown. Padilla, a U.S.citizen from Florida, flew to Angola on behalf of Aerospace Sales and Leasing, a Florida-based company that bought the 727 from American Airlines two years ago. The plane had not been moved for more than a year, and his family believes Padilla went to see whether it was fit to fly.
Padilla's brother and sister told ABCNEWS today they had not had any contact with him.
The plane's disappearance May 25 prompted concern by U.S. officials that terrorists might try to use the plane.
"When an aircraft of this size has been missing for so long it does raise some questions as to where it is and what it's being used for," said Chris Yates, editor of the London-based specialist publication Jane's Civil Aviation Security.
The most worrying possibility was that the plane could have been used as a flying missile against a U.S. target in the manner of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"An aircraft could be either stolen or hijacked overseas, fly to the U.S., on schedule, and it wouldn't be seen on FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] radar, if it didn't want to be seen, until the very last minute," said Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism czar.
The chance of that happening is slim, Clarke said. "The government believes the plane would not have enough fuel to reach the U.S."