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Ethiopian Investigator Says All Hijackers Died in Crash

November 26, 1996

MORONI, Comoros Islands (AP) _ Rescue workers dragged a chunk of an Ethiopian airplane fuselage onto the beach at low tide Monday and used electric saws to cut bodies from the jet, which crashed when hijackers let it run out of fuel.

Wearing masks against the smell of decaying flesh, the workers zipped bodies into dark bags and hauled them to a makeshift morgue set up in a former meat warehouse. Feet and at least one head could be seen in the crush of metal, wires and seating.

One of history’s deadliest hijackings, Saturday’s crash killed 127 of the 175 people on board. At least 101 sets of remains have been recovered, but authorities were having trouble identifying some of them.

At least one U.S. citizen was among the dead. Leslianne Shedd, 28, was a commercial officer with the Foreign Service, and had been headed to Kenya to meet friends for Thanksgiving.

Among the missing was Ron Farris, an American missionary doctor who according to his father had given up ``a six-figure salary to help Africans for $800 a month.″

An Ethiopian investigator said Tuesday that all three of the hijackers died in the crash. Two survivors initially thought to have been the hijackers were instead passengers from Kenya and Djibouti, the Ethiopian News Agency said. The hijackers were Ethiopians, it said.

Investigation team leader Guetachew Assefa said a detailed report on the identity of the hijackers and what happened on the flight would be released as soon as the inquiry was completed.

In addition to the bodies being pulled from the beached piece of fuselage, police said several more bodies were trapped in wreckage still submerged a few hundreds yards off Grand Comore, the largest of the three Comoros Islands.

Ethiopian Airlines said Monday that four of the 52 people pulled alive from the wreckage had died, raising the death toll to 127. Survivors have been flown to hospitals across the region. The airline did not give details of the four who died.

Flight 961 had just left the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa en route to the Ivory Coast when the three hijackers stormed the cockpit and demanded to be taken to Australia. Their motive remains unclear.

The pilot told them the Boeing 767 was running out of fuel and pleaded with the hijackers to let him land at an airport in Moroni, the capital of these islands east of Mozambique. But they refused.

``They said, `If we die, we want others to die with us. We want to make history,‴ according to Indian passenger Rekha Mirchandani, 29, who said crew members gave her the account before she was flown to a hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Apparently seeking to minimize the casualties, the pilot crash-landed the jet in the sea near the shore, where rescuers were able to reach the wreckage quickly. The body of the plane slammed into the water, bouncing and flipping at least once before it broke apart.

Shedd, the American who was killed, had been stationed in Addis Ababa as a commercial officer helping U.S. companies doing business in the region. Her parents live in Gig Harbor, Wash.

Farris, 46, had been returning from India to Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. His wife, Anita, and their four children _ ages 11 to 17 _ were awaiting word of his fate at their Abidjan home.

``There’s always a remote miraculous possibility that he swam to shore. He was a good swimmer,″ his father, retired Army chaplain J.W. Farris, said at his home in Nashville, Tenn.

Farris was a missionary with the Nazarene Church, directing clinics that treat more than 40,000 people a year in Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, his father said.

``He just felt God wanted him to do it,″ the elder Farris said. ``He just always had that drive and made a lot of sacrifices.″

The hijackers ``decimated the dream,″ he said.

Foreign embassies and Ethiopian Airlines said the passenger list included people from Europe, Asia and Africa. Antal Annus, the Hungarian ambassador to Kenya, was among those aboard. It was not clear whether he survived.

In 1990, 128 people died when a hijacked plane crashed at the airport in Canton, China.

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