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The BBC's Robert Hall reports
"Last night's dramatic developments provided vital intelligence"
 real 28k

The BBC's special reporter Darren Jordon
"There are speculation that the hijackers could be seeking political asylum"
 real 28k

Assistant Chief Constable Joe Edwards
"The escape of these men did upset the calm atmosphere"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 14:01 GMT
Crew flee hijack plane

The plane is surrounded by police

The captain and three senior crew have escaped from the hijacked Afghan plane, jumping from a cockpit window and running to safety.

It is thought they climbed down a rope ladder behind the backs of their armed captors at Stansted airport.

The night-time escape increased tension on the plane and about four hours later a flight attendant was pushed down the steps. He was treated for a minor cut on his forehead.

There was a period when it was less calm during the early hours of today, but we have now been able to return to the previous situation
Assistant Chief Constable Joe Edwards
It was several minutes before the escape was noticed by the hijackers and negotiators said they had to work hard to restore calm.

Police said they were unable to speak to the hijackers at all for about an hour but on Wednesday morning the established pattern of the past few days, which includes delivering hot food and medical supplies, resumed.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement has arrested 10 people in charge of security at Kabul airport over the hijacking.

Up to 10 armed men and 156 hostages remain on the plane, which arrived at Stansted on Monday morning. The hijackers' demands are not known.

Assistant Chief Constable Joe Edwards of Essex Police said the four escapees were the 54-year-old captain, the 50-year-old second captain, the 43-year-old first officer and the 54-year-old flight engineer.

All four are believed to be of Afghan nationality. A further nine crew remain on the jet, although it is not clear if any of them can fly the plane.

At a news conference on Wednesday morning, Mr Edwards said: "There has obviously been tiredness and some frustration among those on board.

"Negotiations took place throughout the night, very sensitive negotiations, and the situation appears to be a lot more settled now.

"Up until last night everything had been conducted in a very calm and businesslike manner.

The four escaped from a cockpit window (second left)
"There was a period when it was less calm during the early hours of today but we have now been able to return to the previous situation."

"They stopped talking to us for about an hour. We made contact again shortly before 0600 GMT because we needed to re-supply fuel to the generator."

Mr Edwards said the four crew members had climbed out of the front right cockpit window around 2300 GMT on Tuesday in a "spontaneous escape".

An official from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has arrived at the airport, fuelling speculation that an attempt to seek asylum in the UK is the reason behind the hijack.

In all, 14 people have left the plane since it landed in the UK.

An Afghan man in his 40s who was suffering from asthma was set free on Tuesday afternoon. Eight hostages were released on Monday by the hijackers.

Flight details
0529 GMT Sunday: Plane takes off from Kabul
0543 GMT: Aircraft loses contact with air traffic control
0647 GMT: Lands in Tashkent - refuelled after four-hour wait; 10 passengers released
1240 GMT: Lands in Kazakhstan - demand for more fuel - takes off again
1841 GMT: Plane lands in Moscow
2220 GMT: Plane leaves Moscow
0202 GMT Monday: Lands in UK at Stansted airport
Before the escape of the four men from the cockpit, police said there were 156 hostages left on board - 21 children, 17 women and 118 men.

Eman Omar, a solicitor who represented a gang responsible for Britain's last hijack crisis, in 1996, said she believed the Stansted group were "highly likely" to be seeking asylum in the UK.

Supplies of food, drink and medicine have been delivered several times to those on board since the jet landed in the UK in the early hours of Monday morning.

For much of Monday, the airport operated only a skeleton service. But on Tuesday 99% of scheduled flights operated and airport bosses said they expected Stansted to be operating as normal on Wednesday.

Stansted, which has seen several similar incidents in the past, has well-rehearsed procedures for dealing with hijacks.

The Boeing 727 was hijacked during an internal Afghan flight on Sunday. It landed twice in Central Asia, where at least 10 passengers were released and the plane refuelled.

Several hours later, it stopped in Moscow, where another 10 passengers were freed.

In Afghanistan, the ruling Taleban movement has said that while British authorities are free to negotiate with the hijackers, the Taleban itself would not give in to their demands.


Hostages 'face horrific ordeal'
Analysis: Hijack - the last resort
Who are the hijackers?
Negotiating with hijackers
Stansted's hijack history

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See also:
09 Feb 00 |  UK
Taleban arrests 10 over hijack
09 Feb 00 |  UK
The terror of hijack ordeal
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
The view from Kabul
08 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Hijackers 'have not contacted Taleban'
07 Feb 00 |  UK
How to negotiate with hijackers
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Analysis: Who are the hijackers?
07 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Anxious wait for Afghan relatives
06 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Ariana: Flying in the face of adversity

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