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Panamanian Airliner Hijacked to Colombia

July 7, 1990 GMT

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ A domestic airliner with 10 people aboard was hijacked and flown to neighboring Colombia, where some passengers and a co-pilot were let off before the plane took off again, an official said Friday.

The destination was not known.

The small Twin Otter aircraft belonging to Panama’s domestic Aeroperlas airline was hijacked Thursday by five of the eight passengers aboard, said Capt. John Bennett, director of civil aviation.

The hijackers - three men and two women - then ordered the crew of two to fly to a clandestine airstrip in Viterbo, a small town in Colombia near Medellin, a center for Colombian cocaine trafficking and headquarters of the Medellin drug cartel.

The Viterbo strip is used by drug traffickers, which has led Colombian police to believe the hijackers may have belonged to one of the drug cartels, Colombia’s national radio network Caracol reported.

Police speculated that the hijackers may have taken the plane to use it to transport drug shipments.

At Viterbo, the hijackers let out three passengers and the co-pilot and took off with the aircraft’s pilot, Warren Lam, for an unknown destination, Bennett told a news conference.

The hijackers first boarded the plane Thursday at Colon, at the northern end of the Panama Canal, using false identities, Bennet said. Flight 147 had been bound for Panama City, about 50 miles away.

He said air controllers lost contact with the aircraft a few minutes after it took off. It was earlier thought that the plane may have crashed, and government planes and helicopters searched for the aircraft Thursday and Friday.

Bennett said co-pilot Sergio Ortiz, 26, called authorities in Panama City Thursday afternoon and said the three passengers were safe and in good condition at a Colombian military barracks in the small town of Pereira.

He said they will be taken to Bogota on Saturday.