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Tue, Dec 16, 2008

Mystery Deepens Surrounding Missing Plane Near Turks And Caicos

Owner Says Aircraft Was Stolen Before It Disappeared

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 12.16.08 2200 EST: What started as the reported disappearance of an aircraft bound for New York has become something far more mysterious, and perhaps sinister.

FOX News reports the Britten-Norman aircraft -- alternately reported to be either a twin-engine Islander, or a three-engine Trislander -- that presumably crashed Monday afternoon near the Turks and Caicos Islands may have been commandeered before it took off from Providenciales.

"That plane apparently was stolen," a female employee of Linea Area Puertorriquena Inc. told the news organization. Luis Perez, owner of Puerto Rico Airlines, said he planned to report the missing aircraft as stolen.

Conflicting reports abound regarding the plane's disappearance. Initial statements from Dominican news sources erroneously identified the aircraft as N650LT, which is not a valid registration number on FAA records. Puerto Rico Airlines does operate a BN-2A MK III Trislander with registration N650LP (similar to type shown below.)

Authorities in Providenciales say they aren't certain the plane landed in Turks and Caicos, but rather disappeared while en route to land there. That coincides with initial reports from a Dominican aviation official... who also incorrectly identified the owner as Atlantis Airlines.

Meanwhile, officials with the US Coast Guard say they don't think the plane was stolen -- and that if it was, that's not necessarily why it's missing. "It was over the water when they disappeared -- that’s why we were notified," said Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena, adding the plane "dropped off radar" sometime after departing from Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Eleven passengers and one pilot were believed to be onboard the plane, which may have been heading to New York. As of Tuesday night there remains no sign of the missing plane, or of any survivors.

Original Report

1000 EST: Crews are searching in the waters off the Bahamas for signs of a missing Britten-Norman Islander. The twin-engine aircraft with 12 people onboard disappeared en route to a refueling stop in the Bahamas Monday afternoon.

The Associated Press reports the Atlantis Airlines plane took off from Santiago, Dominican Republic at approximately 3:30 pm Monday, bound for New York. The aircraft fell off radar about 35 minutes later, shortly after controllers received an emergency signal.

US Coast Guard search crews are combing a section of the Atlantic Ocean about four miles west of West Caicos Island, near the aircraft's last known location. USCG spokesman Nick Ameen says no wreckage has been found so far.

Dominican Today identified the missing aircraft as N650LT. ANN will have more details on this story as additional information becomes available.



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