A man who hijacked a Cuban passenger plane and threatened to blow it up with a hand grenade was arrested yesterday after the aircraft landed safely in Florida.
The twin-propeller aircraft, with 31 people aboard, landed at Key West international airport, said the Federal Aviation Administration. It was the second hijacking in two weeks of a Cuban airliner by those seeking to leave the Communist-run island for the United States.
The North American Aero-space Defence Command scrambled two F-16 fighters from a south Florida base to escort the passenger aircraft.
The hijacker carried a boy off the plane who appeared to be a relative. Steve Torrence of Key West Police said: "It looked like they were family. When he let the little boy down on the Ttarmac the little boy grabbed his leg."
US officials surrounded the Cubana Airlines Antonov 24 as police snipers aimed guns at the aircraft. Passengers filed out with their hands in the air. The male passengers slowly lifted their shirts to show they were not hiding weapons, then laid down on the Tarmac. Within an hour of landing, all the passengers were off the plane and were to be interviewed by federal investigators.
The Cuban government said the plane originally had 46 passengers and crew when it was hijacked on a domestic flight from the Isle of Youth to Havana on Monday by a man apparently armed with two grenades.
The hijacker threatened to explode a grenade unless he was flown across the Florida Straits but the plane did not have enough fuel for the trip and landed at Havana's international airport. After a 12-hour stand-off, the hijacker allowed some passengers, including children, to get off the aircraft, which was then refuelled before flying to Key West.
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