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Mystery surrounds plane missing in Caribbean

Authorities were searching near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday for plane that disappeared under mysterious circumstances, reportedly with 12 people on board.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities were searching near the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday for a plane that disappeared under mysterious circumstances, reportedly flown by an unlicensed pilot with 12 people aboard.

Aviation officials gave conflicting reports on the twin-engine plane's origin, destination and where it was last reported.

The aircraft's registered owner, Luis Perez of Puerto Rico, told The Associated Press the plane was for sale and that he hired a trusted pilot to fly it to the Dominican Republic to have it inspected. It is unclear how the plane ended up in someone else's hands, Perez said, adding that he planned to report the plane as stolen.

The missing pilot, identified as Adrian Jimenez, of the Dominican Republic, had his license revoked in October 2006 and was not authorized to fly, said Dominican Pilots Association president Pedro Dominguez. He did not elaborate.

A flight plan indicated the plane took off from the Dominican Republic and was to land in the Bahamas, said Santiago Rosa, aerial navigation director for the Dominican Civil Aviation Institute.

But the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said the plane disappeared shortly after taking off from Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands just southeast of the Bahamas.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Nick Ameen said rescuers searching for the plane were told the crew intended to refuel in Turks and Caicos.

'Unanswered questions'However, the Bahamas Aviation Authority said the plane never landed there, and Turks and Caicos police Sgt. Calvin Chase said airport authorities had no record of the plane landing in Providenciales.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the plane's destination was not immediately known.

"There's still a lot of unanswered questions here," Bergen said.

Relatives of those on board told the Coast Guard that the passengers' final destination was New York, Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said.

Among those missing is Rosa Tavarez, 27, authorities said.

Tavarez worked as a maid in rural Dominican Republic and wanted to find a higher-paying job elsewhere in the Caribbean, acquaintance Maria Torres told reporters as she arrived Tuesday at the Dominican Republic's international airport seeking information on the flight.

The Coast Guard and other agencies were searching in the Atlantic Ocean about four miles west of West Caicos island but had not found any wreckage, Ameen said.

Bad weather in the area was causing large swells and low visibility, making the search difficult, Bena added.

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