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All passengers freed on hijacked Colombian jet

A wheelchair-bound father and his son hijacked a Colombian airliner Monday carrying grenades, but peacefully surrendered hours later after allowing the crew and passengers to exit the plane.
Passengers of a hijacked Colombian airliner leave the plane after it landed in Bogota on Monday.
Passengers of a hijacked Colombian airliner leave the plane after it landed in Bogota on Monday.Mauricio Moreno / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A father in a wheelchair and his son used two grenades to hijack an airliner Monday, but peacefully surrendered five hours later after allowing the crew and passengers, including one American, to leave the plane, authorities said.

The freed hostages told reporters the elder hijacker said he was partially paralyzed by a police bullet during a drug raid some 14 years ago and had unsuccessfully sought compensation.

Sen. Carlos Moreno, who helped negotiate the standoff, said a $43,000 check was handed to the hijacker, but that the government would not honor it.

The Aires airliner, believed to be carrying 20 passengers and five crew, had departed the southern city of Florencia when the two men commandeered it, said Gen. Edgar Lesmez, the chief of the Colombian Air Force. The plane landed in Bogota, the flight’s original destination, but at a military airfield next to the capital’s civilian El Dorado Airport.

After speaking with government negotiators and a Roman Catholic priest for hours while the twin-propeller plane stood on the tarmac, the two hostages surrendered and came down from the plane.

Shortly after landing in Bogota, the hijackers allowed women passengers and two babies to exit the plane and later allowed all the passengers off the aircraft.

Among those on board the plane was a U.S. citizen, said a U.S. official in Bogota. Further details were not available. Also on board as passengers were Liliana Diez, manager of Aires, and Colombian congressman Antonio Serrano.

Authorities first identified the hijackers as Luis Ramirez, about 42 years old, and his son Linsen Ramirez, about 22, but later said the elder man’s name was really Porfirio Ramirez.

Gen. Alberto Ruiz, chief of operations of the Colombian National Police, said they did not appear to belong to any of Colombia’s illegal armed groups.

“They seem to be common citizens,” Ruiz told journalists.

Attorney General Mario Iguaran said the elder Ramirez led the hijacking and if convicted faces 25 to 40 years in prison for aggravated hijacking of an aircraft. He expressed sympathy for the man’s case, but added: “Unfortunately he has to be brought to justice.”

The drama riveted Colombians as it unfolded on their radios and television sets. They listened to one hostage, while still on the plane, describe the scene in a furtive cell phone conversation with local RCN radio.

“They have indicated to us they have explosives,” Reinaldo Duque, one of the hostages, said in a hushed voice.

Duque said the older hijacker boarded the plane in a wheelchair. It may have helped him smuggle the grenades aboard. The wheelchair was too large to pass through an airport metal detector, and the man was not patted down by security agents, Luis Octavio Rojas, director of the Florencia airport, told The Associated Press.

“But they did give him and the chair a visual inspection,” Rojas added.

It marked the second time an Aires flight from Florencia to Bogota has been hijacked.

In February 2002, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, hijacked an Aires flight, forced it to land on a rural highway and kidnapped a Colombian senator who was aboard. Sen. Jorge Gechen Turbay, president of the Colombian Senate’s peace commission, remains a FARC hostage. The other passengers and the crew were left with the plane in that case.