Vanished Plane

At Last, Kite-Surf Bag Provides a Clue in Missoni Plane Disappearance

Weeks after a plane carrying Vittorio Missoni vanished, a bag has been found. By Barbie Latza Nadeau.

Venezuela's Ministry of the Interior and Justice/AP

Finally, there is a solid clue in the mysterious disappearance of a small tourist plane carrying Italian fashion magnate Vittorio Missoni, his companion, and two friends.

Weeks after the small twin-engine aircraft took off from the tourist island of Los Roques en route to Caracas and disappeared without a trace, there is now damning evidence that the plane indeed crashed on Jan. 4. Italy’s Corriere Della Sera reported Monday that a German tourist discovered a kite-surf bag from the plane on the rocks off the Dutch island of Curaçao, about 125 miles from Los Roques, on Jan. 10.

The Missoni family had been clinging to hope that the passengers and their two-man crew were alive, suggesting that they could have been kidnapped and had not perished in an air-sea accident. Over the weekend, the children of Missoni and the other passengers even issued a plea for information from any person who may know what happened to their parents, complete with an email address for tips.

The recovered kite-surf bag was empty, but the owner’s name—Giorgio Neri—and email address were legible on a plastic luggage tag. Neri was on the flight that left Los Roques after the Missoni party on Jan. 4, but there was limited room on his plane so he sent his kite-surf equipment ahead with the Missoni group. The German tourist apparently had not heard of the Missoni disappearance and waited a week after he returned to Germany from his vacation to email Neri to tell him he’d found his bag. Neri alerted authorities and the Missoni family to tell them that his bag was on Missoni’s plane. He was not immediately available for comment.

Now authorities in Venezuela, who have been conducting around-the-clock air and sea searches, are refocusing their search efforts to the area where the bag washed up to see if other debris may have followed the same sea currents. Missoni’s brother Luca, who has been holding vigil and assisting the search crews in Venezuela, is reportedly making his way to the island of Curaçao, no doubt expecting the worst. A Missoni spokesperson told reporters on Monday that “the family has not drawn a conclusion yet.”

The Missoni family may not be ready to give up hope just yet, but Venezuelan authorities say they have always concluded that the plane went down. They immediately dismissed the kidnapping theory and instead focused on the pilot, aircraft, and last-known radar blip, about 11 miles off the coast, before the aircraft disappeared. In recent days they have deployed mini remote-controlled submarines to search the deep waters below where they believed the plane may have made impact.

Since Jan. 4, they have been focusing search efforts on an area south of Los Roques, but Neri’s bag had drifted due west, slightly off the calculation they had configured to pinpoint the potential debris field. Now they are moving the operation to the west and recalculating the search area based on the bag’s path. The kite-surf bag is a valuable clue, but finding the whole plane and the remains of the passengers is what it will take to close the case—at least for the Missoni family.