Man in a wheelchair hijackes plane in Colombia

The hijacker freed the 25 persons on board after hours of tense negotiations
A man in a wheelchair and his son hijacked for several hours a Colombian airliner Monday to claim for a social benefit that the government failed to pay them. The incident took place in Bogota and kept the country's population up in the air until the hijackers freed the 25 people on board.

At first, authorities believed that the hijackers were somehow connected to any of the irregular armed forces that operate in Colombian territory. But later, as soon as their demands became known, it was clear that the crisis was not related to the long-running internal conflict.

The hijackers demanded a meeting with representatives of the Catholic Church, the attorney general's office and a human rights organization, officials said, and government negotiators and a priest spoke with them while the twin-propeller plane stood on the tarmac.

Live television broadcasts later showed people filing off the plane. A negotiator confirmed to the press by phone from inside the plane that the passengers had been let go, but that the crew remained on board. The hijackers earlier allowed five women and two babies to leave the plane, Bogota's police chief, Gen. Luis Alberto Gomez, said.

Later, hijackers released all the paseengers and by the evening they had also freed the five member crew. Martin Gonzalez, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, identified the hijackers as Luis Ramirez, about 42, and his son Linsen Ramirez, about 22. Gen. Alberto Ruiz, chief of operations for the National Police. "They seem to be common citizens," he told reporters.

Colombians followed the events by radio and TV and became really alarmed when a passenger told a local radio station that the hijackers had explosives. Later, it became known that as the wheelchair was too large to pass through a metal detector, the hijacker was not patted down by security agents, adding more credibility to versions.

The crisis ended when the hicjackers accepted to leave the airplane in an ambulance.

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