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Sunday, November 24, 1996 05:34:20 PM

From:   don canaan
Subject:        Israel Faxx
To:     IF>Current Issues
>Israel Faxx
>PD Nov. 25, 1996, Vol. 4, No. 214

Eight Israelis, Possibly 7 Americans on Hijacked Ethiopian 767

By the VOA's Sonya Laurence Green (Nairobi), Victor Beattie (Washington), Arutz 7 and the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Press Office

At least 123 people died and 52 survived after a hijacked Ethiopian airliner crashed in the Comoros Islands off the east African coast.

Search and rescue operations -- though hampered by high waves Sunday -- continued for the rest of the 175 passengers and crew, which included eight israelis and seven Americans.

Divers and rescue workers continued their search for those aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, as hopes of finding more survivors diminished. Dozens were reportedly still strapped in their seats in a submerged part of the wreckage.

The Boeing 767 broke up after it ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean just off the island of Grande Comore. French doctors vacationing at the nearby Galawa Beach hotel joined the rescue operation, and one of the hotel's conference rooms was reportedly used as a makeshift morgue, while survivors, many in critical condition, were sent to local hospitals.

The Ethiopian pilot and co-pilot who survived the crash, identified two of the hijackers among those rescued, and they were arrested. The pilot said three hijackers seized the plane shortly after it took off from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa Saturday, wielding an axe, a fire extinguisher and a bomb demanding to be flown to Australia. Airline officials said the hijackers' nationalities and motive remained unclear.

Witnesses say rescuers worked through Saturday night after the 767 broke into three pieces just off the shoreline of the main island. Some passengers swam to shore, about 500 yards away, while others bobbed helplessly in the sky blue waters.

When the hijacking of the plane became known, an Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa representative, Ofer Sharabi, left for the Comoro Islands and was the first Israeli to report from the site.

The Foreign Ministry dispatched a plane to the Comoro Islands, carrying medical and technical staffs, including Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for African Affairs Zvi Mazel.

The Israeli ambassador to Ethiopia, Avi Granot, is maintaining contact with the authorities and with Ethiopian Airlines.

Lior Fuchs, from Moshav Ein Habesor in the Arava, suffered light burns. There are unconfirmed reports of an additional Israeli who is receiving hospital treatment. In a telephone conversation broadcast on Israel Radio, Fuchs told his mother, "Everything is OK; I'm all right."

Fuchs told what transpired moments before the crash: "My friend and I positioned ourselves next to the emergency exits in order to open the doors upon landing. When the plane hit the water, I felt a tremendous lurch, and I was thrown from my chair. Water poured into the plane, and somehow I managed to get out, I don't know how."

Sharabi, the Israeli diplomat at the scene of the crash, said he is in the process of personally checking each and every survivor in the hopes of locating other Israelis.

He says the rescue work is not expected to be overly complicated. The plane is in very shallow water, and at low tide, is approachable on foot.

However, bringing the jet to shore would facilitate the freeing of those trapped inside. The local authorities have not yet produced the heavy equipment needed to move the plane. An Israeli rescue team with medical personnel as well as IDF rabbinate representatives were expected at last night.

An Israeli passenger thrown into the sea during the crash said he managed to rescue a woman and her baby. "We simply went into an emergency landing in the sea and I felt a powerful shaking. I was thrown from the seat, and water penetrated the plane, and somehow I managed to get out. I don't know how," Lior Fox, 23, told Israel Radio.

"I saw a woman with a baby who was caught, and I swam towards her and freed them from the wreckage and inflated the life preserver for her, and for the baby I inflated the life preserver, and we got up together on a boat," Fox said.

The United States is sending investigation teams to the Comoros Islands where the hijacked airliner crashed into the sea. The State Department says both it and the FBI are sending teams to the crash site some 24 miles north of the Comoros capital of Moroni.

A spokesman says it is too early to determine how many Americans were on board Flight 961 or their identity. Air piracy involving Americans is a crime under US law. The Americans are believed to be among at least 24 non-African passengers including, reportedly, the Hungarian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Kenya.

The U.S. consul general in Bombay, Franklin Huddle, and his wife survived.

The aircraft appeared to have out of fuel as the hijackers demanded to be flown to Australia. A Boeing spokesman says this particular wide-bodied, twin-engine aircraft was designed for long-range flights:

The flight was destined for Nairobi at the time it was commandeered.

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