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Hijacking Eyed in Panama Plane Case

March 18, 2000

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ A small plane that disappeared Friday from radar screens during a flight to an eastern port may have been hijacked with 10 people aboard, aviation officials said.

The twin-engine plane left a Panama City airport Friday morning on a flight to Puerto Obaldia, 180 miles to the east near the border with Colombia. The plane never arrived.

Civil aeronautics director Jaime Fabrega said ``there is a possibility that this wasn’t an accident.″

``There were no reports of smoke, noise or radio transmissions,″ in the area where the plane disappeared from radar screens,″ he said.

The plane was about 80 miles from Puerto Obaldia when it disappeared. It had been flying at a low altitude.

Guerrillas from Colombia’s largest rebel group _ the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia _ have been in the area near Puerto Obaldia. In November, Colombian guerrillas disguised as tourists stole two private helicopters nearby.

Two crew members and eight passengers, including four children, were aboard the Puerto Obaldia flight. Among the passengers were two Colombians. There was no information on the others’ nationalities.

The search for the plane, owned by the Aero Perlas company, was called off at nightfall Friday and was to resume Saturday.

Update hourly