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Cuban Plane Hijacked

Aired September 19, 2000 - 10:47 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And we're getting word of a hijacking taking place in Cuba. With the latest, let's go to our Carl Rochelle, who is in Washington, D.C.

Carl, what do you know?

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, an interesting situation. There is a report out of Cuba that a small plane has been hijacked, apparently hijacked, and is flying in the general direction of the United States.

Now I talked to the FAA and they have no official word on it yet. But sources who are familiar with the situation tell me that the plane is an AN2 (ph).

Now, I can show you a picture of what it looks like. This is probably going to surprise you. It is a single-engine biplane. It is Russian made. This is a picture of one that looks generally like the one that apparently hijacked out of Cuba. It can hold up to 20 passengers, I am told that there are believed to be 16 people onboard the airplane.

Now it is reported to be a hijack. It has departed Cuban air space. Havana air traffic control did talk to the airplane on its way out. That is how we know that we believe there are 16 people on board. It is listed at as a hijack.

Now the airplane has not yet shown up on radar in the United States, and there has been no communication from the aircraft to the United States.

Havana air traffic control said the airplane was heading generally in a north to northwesterly direction, generally in the direction of the United States.

It does not move fast, we believe, checking some of the details on it. But we believe the cruising speed of this airplane is about 80 miles an hour. That's not very fast.

It is an interesting design. It's one the Russians used a lot as a utility aircraft. It will carry a lot of people, but it is -- it is small. It is single engine and it is a biplane.

That is about all of the information we have right now, Daryn. Waiting for it to show up on radar in the United States. The question of course is whether it has enough fuel on board to make this particular transition. And should be because, if my figures serve me correctly, from Havana to Key West is about 90 miles, but not sure exactly which direction it is going in -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Carl, a quick question here. When we think hijacking, we usually think commercial airliner, but a small plane like that looks like it could be a private plane.

ROCHELLE: It could be. My guess is it would not be a private sense, in the sense that it was owned by a commercial interest. Of course, that would almost be precluded in Cuba. But it could be a military aircraft. It could be a small in-country passenger air service, if you will. Not to fly flights outside of Cuba or perhaps from Cuba over to Mexico, short distance flights like that. But it might be something for internal flights in and around the country.

But it is not an airliner on the sense that you normally think of an airliner. You never have, for instance, under the rules that are outstanding in the United States, a single-engine aircraft with a whole bunch of passengers on board. To be considered an airliner, it would have to have probably at least two engines before they would use it. And there are some instance where you would do that. But it is not generally in most countries using a single-engine aircraft to carry passengers around.

But it will carry a number of people. And, like I said, it could be a military aircraft, it could be some civilian authority, an agriculture ministry or something like that, but just guessing here. But would not think it would be a scheduled airliner, Daryn, but those are details we don't know.

If it makes it to the U.S. if that is its ultimate destination, and it makes it to the U.S., then we will probably know more about it in a bit.

KAGAN: Carl, you mentioned rules, what would be the rule of an aircraft coming from Cuba, landing in the U.S.

ROCHELLE: Well, the rule of an aircraft, once it is in flight, is if it gets within air space, it probably would scramble something to track along with it, the military would, and follow it as it comes in toward the United States. But it would land, there is really sort of one of those situations where the airplane is up, and it sort of goes where the pilot want to take it, if you know what I mean.

You have -- the options here are, you let it land where it wants to land, or you shoot it down, which is something that no one would do; believe me. So the plane will be allowed, if has the fuel to go on board will be allowed to get to the point, where it approaches some airport and lands.

You may recall. it's been a number of years ago, that there was actually a Cuban fighter that flew in, I believe, and landed in Louisiana or Texas, or somewhere down in that area. I don't remember exactly now. One actually flew out of Cuba and landed in the United States. So it's possible.

But the airplane, once it's up, is going to go where the pilot wants to take it. And since I would not think there would be a threat involved, it is going to land probably where the pilot chooses to land.

And once it shows up on air space, then I am sure they will clear out a path for it. The aircraft did communicate with Havana air traffic control, as it was leaving, indicated that it was being hijacked, in a hijacked situation.

There are certain transponder codes that the pilot can squawk to identify to air traffic controllers, and this is of course international that they can identify electronically to a controller that they are in a hijack situation. That is also an indication.

But Havana air traffic control believes it is hijacked and heading, we said, in a north to northwesterly direction, generally in the direction of the United States. And let's wait and see.

If he keeps coming on, then it should show on radar before too much longer, and perhaps we will find out some more about it.

KAGAN: Well, you mentioned the FAA not having word of this yet, or not tracking it on radar. What happens now? What does the FAA do to keep an eye out for something like this?

ROCHELLE: Well, they are watching for it to show up on the radar screens. They are aware of the story, just like everyone else is. But they have not been notified officially by the Cuban government that this situation is outstanding.

The way that the radar works, it's sort of universal, it swings around in a sweep, and it can see, depending on where the site is, and what the elevation of it, it can see 50, 100, maybe a couple of hundred miles out, depending again on the radar itself. So, at some point, the aircraft will come in.

Now, radar, as we think of it, in tracking airliners, uses something called a transponder, which enhances the signal that shows up on the radar scope and makes it easy to see. If this aircraft doesn't have a transponder turned on, then the radar is waiting for what is called a primary target. In other words, it is literally the reflection of the radar signal off of the skin of the aircraft and back to the radar. It makes it a little more difficult to identify an aircraft, than if it has a transponder on.

Here again, we would think, at some point, this aircraft, if it is in fact headed for the United States, would communicate on radio. There are certain frequencies that are universal, that they should be able to pick up the frequency that would be being listened to by controllers in the United States, calling at random, or perhaps not. Perhaps they will just go in, and find the first air field they like, and put the plane down.

KAGAN: All right, Carl Rochelle in Washington, D.C., thank you very much. We would allow you to -- cut you loose right now so you can go get some more information for us.



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