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

There was no immediate confirmation of casualties. A resident who said he helped rescue passengers told Radio France Internationale there were many survivors but ``many dead too.''

State-run radio on Comoros _ a three-island chain off east Africa _ said the plane 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.

The employee of the Galawa Beach Hotel who spoke to Radio France Internationale said the airliner landed about a half-mile from land. The risk of shark attacks was slowing rescuers' work, said the hotel worker, who did not give his name.

The plane had been hijacked earlier today 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.

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, contradicting earlier reports of 178 passengers on a flight originating from Bombay, India. Initial reports to the airline had 43 dead, an airline employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

An airport spokesman in the Comoros Islands said he received a message about the airplane from Tanzania. ``But we have no news on it,'' said Mamoune Chakira, spokesman for the Hayaya International Airport in Moroni.