Precede NEW YORK
LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) _ A four-member American TWA crew arrived on this eastern Mediterranean island today enroute to Beirut, Lebanon, to ferry the hijacked TWA Boeing 727 back to the United States.
An airport spokesman said a chartered Lear 23 jet landed at Larnaca at 6 a.m. (11 p.m. EDT) and remained on ground awaiting clearance from the Lebanese authorities to land at Beirut in the early afternoon.
The spokesman, who was not identified under official rules, said the jet also had a crew of four Frenchmen.
The TWA Boeing 727 was hijacked June 14 soon after taking off from Athens, Greece, on a flight to Rome. The hijackers, Shiite Moslem radicals, ordered it to shuttle between Beirut and Algiers, Algeria, for several days before finally landing in Beirut on June 16.
The hijackers released most of the passengers and crew in the initial days, but held 39 until Sunday, when the last hostages were driven to Damascus, Syria and from there were flown to Frankfurt, West Germany and freedom.
Among them were three original crew members who had remained oboard the plane at Beirut airport throughout most of the ordeal.
On Sunday, TWA spokeswoman Sally C. McElwreath said airline officials were working through diplomatic channels to gain return of the jet, which is 10 to 15 years old and cost about $12 million when new.
Ms. McElwreath said the hijacked plane appeared to be in good condition on the outside but that ″the interior is probably pretty messed up.″
However, she said, it ordinarily has daily maintenance, which it did not receive during the hijacking. TWA officials are not certain the plane can be flown out of Beirut without maintenance or repairs, she said.
TWA’s president and chief executive officer, C.E. Meyer, wished the freed passengers and crew ″a heartfelt welcome home″ and thanked the U.S. and foreign officials who brought the hostage-taking to a safe conclusion.
In a statement released by Ms. McElwreath Meyer saluted ″the courage and unfailing professionalism of our crew members, whose conduct throughout this unhappy affair has exemplified the highest standards of their proud calling.″
Once agreement on returning the plane is reached, presumably through the Shitte Moslem Amal militia, the jet would be flown to a nearby airport - probably Athens - for preliminary maintenance, she said.
From there, it probably would be flown to Kansas City, Mo., where TWA has its central maintenance facility, for a ″top to bottom examination,″ Ms. McElwreath said.
It was not clear, however, who would fly the plane from Beirut to Athens. Mrs. McElwreath said she was aware of reports that Middle East Airlines had agreed to fly the plane out of Beirut but was uncertain if they were true.
In any case, she said, ″That is amongst many, many possibilities.″
There was no answer Sunday at the New York offices of Middle East Airlines for comment on that possibility.