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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 1 April, 2003, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
Cuba plane hijacker arrested
The hijacker of a Cuban airliner has surrendered to police after forcing the pilot to fly to Florida.
Hijack suspect
The hijack suspect surrenders and is taken away by police

Passengers were released unharmed from the Cubana Airlines plane after it landed at Key West, Florida.

The hijacker, named by US television reports as Adermis Wilson Gonzalez, carried a small boy off the plane, believed to be his son, and was then taken into police custody.

"It looked like they were family. When he let the little boy down on the tarmac the little boy grabbed his leg," Key West police spokesman Steve Torrence said.

The Soviet-made Antonov-24 plane landed at 1134 (1634 GMT) with about 30 passengers and crew on board.

Witnesses said uniformed officials approached the plane as police snipers trained their guns on it.

'Hand grenades'

The hijacker, who was said to be armed with two hand grenades, had initially demanded to be flown to Florida shortly after the plane left Cuba's Isle of Youth at around 0130 GMT on Tuesday.

Police guard the hijack suspect, as he lies down beside the plane

But the pilot said he did not have enough fuel to fly to Miami and landed at Havana airport - where shortly after daybreak on Tuesday it was hooked up to a refuelling vehicle.

At least 20 passengers were either released or managed to escape while the plane was on the tarmac overnight.

The ones who escaped jumped out of the back of the airliner into the arms of emergency workers below.

The hijacker may have released other passengers in exchange for refuelling of the plane.

The plane took off for the second time at 1545 GMT on Tuesday.

'US responsible'

The airliner was on the same route as a plane successfully diverted to Florida by six hijackers armed with knives about two weeks ago.

The six are awaiting trial in the US on air piracy charges.

The Cuban authorities say the US encourages potential hijackers by tending to give those Cubans that make it to the US automatic asylum.

"The entire responsibility of what could happen [in the latest hijack attempt] will fall on the government of that country," a statement by Cuban officials said of the US.

A US State Department official denied on Tuesday that US law encourages hijackings.

"It is clear that Cubans seek to flee Cuba because they lack political and economic freedom... It's not US law which encourages this," he said.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"This is the second time in two weeks that an internal Cuban flight has been hijacked"

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