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Civilian Russian Plane HijackedAired March 15, 2001 - 9:30 a.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: A Russian passenger plane was hijacked just hours ago, shortly after it took off from Istanbul. Turkish authorities say at least 162 passengers are onboard that plane. It was heading toward Moscow. Two hijackers are believed to be aboard the aircraft.
For the latest, let's go to Steve Harrigan, who's standing by in Moscow -- Steve.
STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we've gotten some more important news about the Russian reaction to this up until this now. They've just given a brief statement confirming the fact that the hijacking has taken place.
Now we hear from the Russian president's press secretary, Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently setting up a headquarters to deal with the hijack crisis. Mr. Putin, as you may know, is on a vacation. He is skiing right now in Siberia, so Mr. Putin has set up a headquarters to deal with the hijacking.
It appears that this may be no ordinary hijacking. Now, we've heard rumors, speculation, reports from Turkish television that the two hijackers onboard were Chechens, that they'd identified themselves as Chechens. That has not been confirmed, but the simple fact that the Russian president is breaking into his vacation to set up a headquarters to deal with the problem gives some credence to that speculation.
Russia, as you know, has been fighting a war with Chechnya for more than a year now, and its fear of terrorist attacks has been enormous throughout that war. We've seen bombing attacks in Moscow and now, apparently, a terrorist attack with more than 160 people onboard this plane.
It was en route from Istanbul to Moscow. It was a charter flight, at least 50 Turks onboard, the rest Russians. These were people perhaps on holiday in Turkey, perhaps small-business people, shuttle traders going back and forth between Turkey and Russia.
So initial reaction from Russia is very guarded, simply confirming it. And now we have the word that Russian President Vladimir Putin is himself taking charge of this rescue operation -- Daryn. KAGAN: Steve, so what do we know about the route of this plane right now? It was going from Istanbul to Moscow, but have the hijackers asked for it to go in a different direction?
HARRIGAN: Right. We're hearing some details from the Russian news agency Interfax. Apparently, there were two hijackers onboard. About 20 minutes after the flight took off from Istanbul, about 1:30 local time, one of the hijackers forced his way into the cabin with a knife and ordered a change in direction.
Now, we've heard a lot of different reports about where that plane is going. It was a charter flight. We've spoken to Vnukovo Airlines; they say they don't know where the plane is at this moment and do not know where it's going.
This is a medium-range plane. It's a Tupolev-154. It's maximum range is about 4,000 depending miles, depending on its payload. And it was probably pretty full. A lot of these people carry clothing and electronic goods -- as much as they can carry -- back and forth between Russia and Turkey.
KAGAN: Steve Harrigan, we will check back with you on a frequent basis as the day goes on. Thank you.
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