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Ethiopian Plane Crashes in Comoros Islands

November 24, 1996

MORONI, Comoros Islands (AP) _ An Ethiopian airliner believed to have been hijacked with at least 163 passengers aboard crashed today on the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, Radio Comoros reported.

The crash killed 55 people and injured at least 16 others, the Italian Foreign Ministry in Rome said, citing its embassy on the island nation.

Rough seas, the risk of shark attacks and coming darkness were hindering efforts to rescue survivors, according to Ethiopian Airlines and a witness’s account to Radio France Internationale.

State-run radio on Comoros _ a three-island chain off east Africa _ said the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 went down about midday at Mitsamiuti beach on the north side of the main island of Grande Comore, resident Donies Pornage told The Associated Press by telephone.

The radio report called for all hospitals to prepare to treat the wounded, Pornage said.

There were conflicting reports about whether the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 hit land or water. While state radio said the airliner hit the beach, local radio reporter Ibrahim Ahmed told Israel radio that the plane plunged into water off Grande Comore, splitting into at least two parts.

The plane may have tried to make an emergency landing after running out of fuel, Israel radio said.

An employee of the Galawa Beach Hotel who spoke to Radio France Internationale said the airliner landed about a half-mile from land.

The plane had been hijacked by 11 Ethiopians in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, said Israel radio, which monitored conversations between the plane’s crew and air traffic controllers in Addis Ababa.

The hijackers demanded to be flown to Australia, Israel radio reporter Mickey Gourdis said. The plane was en route to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to refuel when it crashed, Gourdis said.

The control tower at Nairobi’s airport said the hijacking happened before the plane entered Kenyan air space.

Mamoune Chakira, spokesman for the Hayaya International Airport in the Comoros, said airport control was told about the hijacked plane by Ethiopean officials.

``But we made no air traffic control contact with the plane,″ Chakira said.

There were conflicting reports about the number of people aboard and the origin of the airliner.

Ethiopian Airlines said the plane carried 163 passengers and 12 crew members to Addis Ababa to Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, contradicting earlier reports of 178 passengers on a flight originating from Bombay, India.

Update hourly