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Hijacked Plane Crashes in Florida Keys - 2001-08-10

A small, chartered airplane has gone down in waters south of the Florida Keys, Thursday, after an apparent hijacking attempt by two passengers who reportedly demanded they be flown to Cuba. The passengers are believed to have drowned after the Piper Cherokee aircraft crashed in waters 60 kilometers south of Key West.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter rescued the pilot, but, after hours of combing the Florida Straits, the search for the passengers was called off late Thursday, according to Coast Guard commander Marc Woodring. "The pilot was recovered very quickly," he said. "And [as for] the two people that are missing, the word from the survivor is that they may have been trapped inside the cabin of the airplane."

Details of what led to the crash are sketchy. The passengers, described as a couple, chartered the aircraft in Key West for what was supposed to be a sight-seeing tour. The pilot issued a distress call shortly before the crash.

Authorities in the Keys who spoke with the pilot say the incident was a hijacking. The passengers reportedly produced a weapon and demanded to be taken to Cuba. The pilot refused and a struggle ensued. The pilot suffered only minor cuts and bruises and is listed in good condition in a hospital in the Keys.

The incident comes just nine days after a novice pilot inexplicably flew off to Cuba from Marathon Key on his first solo flight. Milo John Reese crash-landed east of Havana and remained in Cuban custody until Wednesday, when he was returned to the United States and promptly arrested.

Mr. Reese, who is described as mentally unstable, made his first court appearance in Miami Thursday. But he refused to answer any questions put to him by a federal judge and has yet to offer any explanations for his actions.