A mysterious private jet, registered to Wells Fargo Bank in Salt Lake City, Utah, made an unannounced flight into Tripoli’s international airport on Friday, just hours before the United Nations Security Council voted to impose a no-fly zone on the country.
A British website posted an audio recording of the aircraft, a privately-owned Bombadier 700 communicating with air traffic controllers over Malta en route to Mitiga airport in Libya.
The pilot of the plane spoke with a distinctly American accent and told the tower the plane might need to land in Malta because they had not yet received a landing permit for its destination in Libya.
“In the event we don’t receive a landing permit in the next few minutes, we’re going to need to file for an alternate, Malta airport. We’re currently attempting to contact Tripoli for clearance, but we don’t have it yet.”
Shortly after that exchange, the Malta air traffic controller said he had contacted Tripoli by telephone and they had accepted the pilot’s request to land.
It is extremely unusual for any aircraft, including a private business jet, to fly to a country without a landing permit, aircraft industry experts tell Newsmax. It is even more unusual for a private jet to not file a flight plan ahead of such a flight. And yet, the last flight plan filed by the owners of the plane, No. N799WW, had it flying from Washington Dulles airport on Sunday, March 13, bound for Barajas International airport in Madrid.
A spokesperson for Flightware.com, a website that tracks all publicly-filed flight plans, told Newsmax that the Madrid flight came up with “result unknown, meaning that the flight could have been scrapped or it went somewhere else.”
Since March 13, the aircraft’s operators have not filed any further flight plans, including for the Libya flight.
Wells Fargo Bank owns thousands of private jets on behalf of foreign companies, who pay hefty fees for its services so they can operate U.S.-registered planes.
“We own these planes in a trust capacity,” Wells Fargo aircraft leasing executive Eric Morgan told Newsmax. “We don’t actually operate them. But we definitely want to know” where the aircraft was going, especially given the timing of the flight just before the no-fly zone went into effect.
Sources familiar with clandestine U.S. government flights using proprietary companies to operate such aircraft, tell Newsmax the plane’s real owners were “buried four layers deep” beneath two companies registered in Cyprus and another in Switzerland.
However, a U.S. official said the flight had “no connection” to the U.S. intelligence community.
Four New York Times journalists were taken captive by pro-Gadhafi forces on Thursday and taken to Tripoli. When they were released on Monday, New York Times Editor Bill Keller thanked the governments of Turkey and Britain for their help in obtaining the journalists’ release.
The four reporters were escorted to the land border with Tunisia on Monday and released there, according to the Times.
The New York Times has a history of employing former U.S. intelligence officials to secure the release of kidnapped reporters, in particular in Afghanistan.
Former deputy CIA Director Stephen Kappes, who resigned from the agency without explanation last year, has taken credit in public for having convinced Gadhafi to give up his nuclear weapons program in 2003. Kappes is widely believed to have maintained a good relationship with Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, by now a familiar face on international television as the Libyan strongman’s spokesman.
“I’m sure Seif would have been happy to have Kappes come to Tripoli, even if their relations weren’t that great,” a former senior CIA official knowledgeable of hostage negotiations told Newsmax.
Aircraft spotter websites say the mysterious aircraft stayed in Libya for just a few hours, then took off for Spain. It was last seen at Luton airport in Britain on Monday.
In February, the aircraft flew from Milan, Italy to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, a known money-laundering center, and then on to an airport deep in the Amazon jungle in Brazil.
One month later, the plane reappeared, flying from Capitan Corbeta airport in Uruguay to Wilmington, N.C. on March 7. From there, it stopped in Windsor Locks, Conn., for five days, then flew to Washington, D.C. and on to Madrid, where it disappeared.
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