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Breaking News

Hijacked Cuban Plane Down in International Waters

Aired September 19, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: A Cuban hijacking ended in failure and in international waters off South Florida this morning. More than a dozen people may have been aboard the small Russian-built plane. No word yet about their condition, exactly where they were headed or why.

Helping us sort out the story is CNN's Carl Rochelle.

Carl, a lot we don't know. What do we know at this point?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jeanne, what we do know, at about 8:45 this morning, Havana air traffic controllers notified the FAA in Miami, the air traffic controllers in Miami, that they had a plane, that the crew had said they were hijacked, that the plane was headed in the direction of northwest to west, generally in a direction that would send it toward the United States, that it was on Havana radar screens and they had been talking to Havana about it. That airplane never did show up on U.S. radar screens, they never made any contact with controllers. They've looked for the airplane. The last word is that it is down in the water.

Now, I'm told we have some sound from Petty Officer Scott Carr with the Coast Guard on where they are looking for the aircraft.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETTY OFFICER SCOTT CARR, U.S. COAST GUARD: The Coast Guard is sending all available assets to that area. I do know we have the Coast Guard cutter Monhegan en route with the Coast Guard aircraft that had already been given orders to launch. And we're identifying what other assets we have in the area, are going to divert them there just to provide whatever assistance we can. I have a feeling responders in the area and we'll probably be the first people on scene. And our main concern is rescuing any possible survivors and getting those people out of the water safely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROCHELLE: The aircraft is down, we are told, southwest of the Marquesas between the Dry Tortugas and the United States, the Florida coast.

Now, Jeanne, show you a picture of the aircraft, if we have that picture available. Sort of surprise you. It's an Antonov AN2. It's a single-engine twin-wing airplane, a biplane. And there have been mixed reports, Jeanne. We were first told that it wasn't a float plane, then we were told that it was a float plane. And the last word we heard from our producer in Havana was that it may have been, actually, an agricultural spray plane.

MESERVE: And as I understand it, Cuban officials are saying if it was being used for fumigation, it couldn't actually be carrying as many people as first reports indicate.

ROCHELLE: Well, that's sort of relative. It depends on how willing you are to climb into the hopper where they had chemicals before. These airplanes, what they do is they take the seats out and they put big aluminum hoppers inside, and they either put dry chemicals like sulfur in it, or they mix chemicals like malathion and use it to spray. You could open those tanks up, you could put people inside of them, whether -- how safe it would be, how much anyone would be willing to do.

But the word of 16 passengers plus a crew of two, actually, I believe, came from Havana air traffic controllers who advised U.S. controllers that, initially, that there were 16 people on board. If you add the crew in it, that would make 18.

MESERVE: And we're looking right now at a live picture of a helicopter that's leaving Miami en route to the site where they believe this plane may have gone down.

Carl, can you enlighten us at all as to how this effort to find the plane will be conducted?

MESERVE: Well, first, they have zeroed in where they apparently believe the plane went down. The Coast Guard will fly in with helicopters, locate the area. They probably also have their C-130 Hercules flying in the area also. They have a number of assets. But the real rescue probably will come from a Coast Guard cutter. And they have those heading to the scene, expected to be on the scene within the hour. And, of course, what they'll do is try to get the plane out of the water.

Here are a couple of wild cards about the aircraft itself. If it is a float plane, it's possible that it could have made a landing at sea and be sitting there. If it turns out that it's an agricultural spray plane, those same tanks that I was telling you about would actually help as a flotation device and help keep -- as long as you didn't let water shift inside of the tanks, it could actually float and keep it above water.

So it's not clear because the last word with the Coast Guard was that no one had actually physically seen the aircraft, what condition it was in. They don't know whether it crashed into the water. All they know is it disappeared off of the radar scopes, and that's simply a function of going below the horizon line where the radar can see it anymore. It couldn't see it, and of course that makes radio communications difficult also.

MESERVE: Carl Rochelle, thanks so much for joining us. And "BURDEN OF PROOF" will be discussing this story at the bottom of the hour. They'll be talking about possible survivors and where they will go: to Cuba or to the U.S.?.

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