Seven Britons feared dead as hijack jet crashes

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Moroni , Comoros Islands - An Ethiopian airliner hijacked with at least 163 passengers aboard crashed yesterday off the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. Seven Britons were said to have been on the plane. Aviation sources in Nairobi said four French, three Italians, two Americans, eight Israelis and Hungary's ambassador to Kenya were also on board.

About 50 bodies had been recovered last night and witnesses said at least 60 more were still in the submerged fuselage, strapped in their seats. It appeared certain that all but about 40 of the 175 passengers and crew members on board died.

"There were just under 40 survivors, all with different degrees of injuries," said Bruce Thomson, manager of the Galawa Beach Hotel near the crash site on the northern end of Grand Comore island. "A military diver went into the central fuselage . . . He estimated 60 to 80 passengers were still strapped in and had drowned." Rough seas and darkness impeded the rescue effort, which was called off in the night eight hours after the Ethiopian Airline Boeing 767 smashed into the ocean just off shore.

Mr Thomson said survivors told him there were three hijackers on board, armed with explosives, and they ordered the captain to fly to Australia. The hijackers never revealed their motive for commandeering the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. The plane apparently ran out of fuel as the pilot headed for the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to refuel.

Ethiopian Airlines said that it would release the full passenger list today.