Mystery over death crash jet

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Just who was responsible for hijacking the Ethiopian airliner which crashed in the Comoros Islands, or why, was not immediately clear yesterday.

Survivors reported the hijackers were speaking the Ethiopian language Amharic as well as some French and English. Ethiopian Airlines said it was not clear what the hijackers were demanding beyond a flight to Australia. The Comoran Army believed one of the hijackers was among the survivors.

State-run radio on Comoros - a three-island chain off east Africa - said the plane went down about midday at Mitsamiuti beach on the north side of the main island of Grande Comore. "It certainly was a crash landing, not a nose dive, but the sea was rough and the plane just broke up on impact," Bruce Thomson, manager of the Galawa Beach Hotel near the crash site, said. "The fuselage broke in three pieces . . . They were about 600 to 700 meters from shore, just where the reef starts getting deep down to the ocean bed." The injured were taken to hospitals for treatment, some suffering from major injuries and others appearing in shock but not badly hurt, said Mr Thomson and Frank Sander, office manager at the hotel. "Most of them were drowned because they were stuck in the water. A couple had bad injuries. One man's brains were hanging out," Mr Sander said. "Some were brought in and just lived for a few minutes or seconds."

He said the plane's captain, who survived the crash but was badly injured, told him there were 163 passengers and 12 crew members on board. Mr Sander did not know whether the hijackers were included in the figures. A spokesman for Hayaya Airport in the Comoros, said airport control was told about the plane by Ethiopian officials but made no contact.

A Boeing spokesman said the plane, a 767-200ER, was delivered around 1986 to Ethiopian Airlines, and has a 7,660-mile (12,256-km) range

The worst known crash resulting from hijacking killed 128 people in the Chinese city of Canton in October 1990.