Frankfurt on full alert after gunman steals plane

Hannah Cleaver
Monday 06 January 2003 01:00

A man stole a plane at gunpoint and flew it amid Frankfurt's skyscrapers yesterday, threatening to crash it into the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB).

The city was put on full terrorist alert with Frankfurt airport, several city-centre buildings and the main train station evacuated, and roads closed while the man flew the Cessna light aircraft around for more than two hours.

Residents watched appalled as the plane flew past the city's landmark Messeturm tower and jet fighters were scrambled, circling the city's airspace at high altitude while a police helicopter followed the plane, repeatedly trying to force it away from the tall buildings.

The man, described by the authorities as "really very, very mentally disturbed", had stolen the plane from its pilot at gunpoint from Babenhausen airstrip, south-east of Frankfurt, shortly after 3pm local time.

The man, who speaks German, was in constant contact with police, demanding to speak to the CNN news channel and threatening to crash the plane into the ECB building. He said he wanted to remind the world of Judith Resnik, who died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

On the German news channel n-tv the man said: "I want to make my great idol Judith Resnik famous, she deserves more attention ... She was the first Jewish astronaut."

Police psychologists took over contact with the man as daylight faded and the plane's fuel ran low. After more than two hours he landed at Frankfurt airport and was arrested.

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