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Two U.S. Swimmers Pulled Off Plane in Rio Amid Robbery Probe

Tourism Police Department of Rio Det. Alexandre Braga said Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz had their passports "temporarily confiscated by a court order."
Team USA swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Ryan Lochte and Jack Conger.
Team USA swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Ryan Lochte and Jack Conger.NBC News

Two U.S. Olympic swimmers who say they were with Ryan Lochte when they were robbed in Rio de Janeiro were removed from a plane by Brazilian authorities late Wednesday.

Jeff Ostrow, a lawyer representing Lochte, and a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger were taken off the aircraft.

Detective Alexandre Braga, the chief of the city's tourist police, said the pair had their passports "temporarily confiscated by a court order" through the Brazilian Sporting Events Court.

Bentz and Conger were released by authorities "with the understanding that they would continue their discussions about the incident on Thursday," said USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky.

The two were seen leaving the airport police station early Thursday, when they were surrounded by media before getting into a black vehicle.

On Wednesday, a Brazilian judge ordered Lochte and Olympian Jimmy Feigen to remain in Brazil as authorities investigated their account of being robbed at gunpoint in Rio early Sunday by assailants dressed as police officers.

Sandusky said in a statement Thursday that Bentz, Conger and Feigen were "cooperating with authorities" and determining a time and place to speak further with police.

"All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio," he added.

Lochte's lawyer said Conger and Bentz had not been specifically named by the judge who had wanted Lochte's and Feigen's passports seized.

However, Lochte had already left Brazil and is in the United States. Feigen is still in Brazil and is cooperating with local authorities and "intends to make further statements" on Thursday, the USOC spokesman said.

Sources at Rio's airport told NBC News that Feigen checked in for a flight online, but never showed up.

"We’re victims in this and we’re happy that we’re safe"

Brazilian judge Keyla Blanc de Cnop said Lochte and Feigen gave contradictory accounts of the robbery, according to the court's statement. The men also said the robbery took place on the way home from a club, which they left at 4 a.m. But security video showed them leaving at a different time, the judge said.

De Cnop added that Lochte told police there was one robber, while Feigen said there were more, one of whom had a gun.

Lochte told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in a telephone interview Wednesday night that he returned from Rio earlier that day, and no one told him he should stay in Brazil. Lochte said he told authorities he would cooperate.

Lauer said he asked Lochte about skepticism that his story may have been fabricated but the swimmer balked at that suggestion.

"He strongly denied that, said it’s absolutely not the case," Lauer said.

"I wouldn’t make up a story like this nor would the others — as a matter of fact we all feel it makes us look bad," Lauer said, quoting Lochte. "We’re victims in this and we’re happy that we’re safe."

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. government was aware of the situation. "We have seen media reports that two U.S. citizen athletes were detained. We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance," Kirby said in a statement.

The swimmers are subject to questioning and potential charges if police believe they gave false or misleading statements to authorities, which can carry up to six months in jail.

But under Brazil’s constitution ratified in 1988, they have the right to remain silent.

Related: Lochte's Gunpoint Robbery Doesn't Rattle These Tourists

Lochte repeated his story of what happened in large part, but a few details changed, Lauer said during NBC Sports coverage of the Olympics Wednesday night.

In an interview with TODAY's Billy Bush on Sunday, just hours after the alleged robbery, Lochte had said the gun was put against his forehead — but said in Wednesday's telephone conversation that the gun was pointed in his general direction but the weapon was cocked, Lauer reported.

Lochte did not repeat part of his story that their taxi was pulled over by the robbers, Lauer said.

Lochte said Wednesday they were at a gas station and got back in the taxi, the taxi driver did not move, and it was then that two robbers with guns and badges approached the car and ordered the swimmers out of the vehicle and onto the ground, Lauer said.

Ostrow, the lawyer, said Lochte gave police a statement as representatives from the U.S. State Department, United States Olympic Committee and the FBI observed. Lochte signed the statement to attest to its truthfulness, Ostrow added.

Police did not ask Lochte for more information, and they did not ask him to remain in Brazil, Ostrow said.

"They never said, 'Stay around,'" Ostrow said. "Otherwise, I would have advised Ryan to stay."

He accused Brazilian authorities of trying to "save face" after allowing the incident to become "a circus."

Lochte said in the telephone interview that he initially didn’t want to tell the story of the armed robbery because they were worried they’d broken swim team rules, Lauer said.

Once he realized he hadn’t broken any rules by being out drinking because he was over 21, Lochte said he felt it was OK to tell the story, Lauer added.