20 September 2000
By Ben Fenton, in Nashville
Nine survivors were picked up from the sea last night after a light aircraft apparently hijacked in Cuba disappeared in the Florida Strait.
One body was found. The plane, with up to 18 people on board, was being
flown towards America when it disappeared from radar screens. Two of the
passengers were children. The US Coast Guard, which was co-ordinating
a search for the plane, said it believed that the
The pilot of the antiquated Cuban An-2 biplane, which has a maximum
range of 560 miles, told air traffic controllers in Havana that he and
his passengers had been hijacked after taking off from Pinar del Rio in
the west of the island. The single-engine plane vanished 60
There were reports that the aircraft was a seaplane, but Cuban authorities said it belonged to the country's agriculture department and was equipped for crop dusting. They claimed that the pilot had dropped his technician off at an airport near Pinar del Rio and then taken off, heading to the north-east, and this was the last time the aircraft was seen by anyone on the ground. After receiving the alert from Cuba, the US air force launched two F-15 jets from Homestead Air Force Base to intercept the plane, but a Pentagon spokesman said they had never seen the AN-2 on their own radar.
An Awacs radar aircraft, several military jets, Coast Guard search planes and helicopters as well as several surface vessels, joined the search, concentrating on an area where a signal from an emergency beacon had been picked up.