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Ethiopian airline crash kills at least 50

Darkness hampers rescue efforts

November 23, 1996
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m. EST

MORONI, Comoros Islands (CNN) -- At least 50 people died and more than 100 were missing after a hijacked Ethiopian airliner crashed Saturday off the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean.

The plane, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767, was carrying 175 passengers and crew when it was hijacked between Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Flight 961 also had been scheduled to travel to three other cities.

Eyewitness reports
Resident hotel manager Bruce Thomson
icon (275K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Hotel employee Nathalie Bere
icon (300K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

It crashed near a beach north of Moroni, capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago, and broke into two or three pieces, apparently while attempting an emergency landing.

"They ran out of fuel as the pilot was still negotiating with the hijackers at the time the plane hit the sea," Bruce Thompson, manager of the Resident Hotel on the Comoros Islands, told CNN.

Reports varied on the number of survivors. Ethiopian Airlines planned to issue a passenger list on Sunday, a spokesman said.

Airline officials said the pilot and one crew member were among those who survived.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that three Italians were among the survivors, including two employees of the Italian embassy in Addis Ababa. Eight Israelis also were reported to be on the plane. And, there were several Americans. The United States was sending a team to provide assistance to Comoro officials, the State Department said.

Hotel becomes morgue

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Thirty bodies of crash victims were laid out under blankets in the conference room of a hotel near the site of the crash. State radio appealed to all doctors to report to the two main hospitals on Grande Comore, where the accident occurred.

Thompson said rescue efforts "have come to a standstill," because of darkness and rough seas.

The flight was hijacked by 11 Ethiopians after leaving Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, said Israel radio, which had monitored conversations between the plane's crew and air traffic controllers.

Thompson said two terrorists were on board armed with explosives, although the plane did not crash as a result of the explosives, authorities said.

The hijackers demanded to be flown to Australia, and refused to heed warnings from the pilots that the plane didn't have enough fuel to make it there.

The plane then headed for the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to refuel, but instead went down at midday just off Mitsamiuti Beach, between Madagascar and Mozambique.

 
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