A U.S. serviceman's wife and 7-month-old daughter, held for a time by Panamanian military forces at the Panama City airport, were spirited out of the embattled country aboard a private cargo plane.
And two American women were held hostage at gunpoint in an airport terminal for more than six hours before they were freed by U.S. soldiers who bluffed the Panamanian captors into believing that Gen. Manuel Noriega had been killed.Dozens of guests hiding in a seaside luxury hotel cheered when a battalion of elite U.S. airborne troops shot their way through a neighborhood to reach the building.
In addition, the Smithsonian Institution said 11 scientists and technicians were missing from a research institute and believed taken hostage.
Pentagon officials said finding American hostages is a "primary concern."
Mother and daughter
Tony Tomaneo, the pilot of the DHL Worldwide Express jet that carried the mother and daughter to safety Wednesday, said he was hiding across from the terminal when a small armed band took a dozen Americans in the terminal hostage.
Tomaneo identified the serviceman's wife as Maria Rynecky, who along with the other Americans, was waiting for a flight to the United States when the invasion occurred.
"They forced the Americans to lie down on the floor because they couldn't handle all of them," said Tomaneo. "They grabbed two young American women and, if you can believe this, the baby. They were holding these girls in front of them.
He said the U.S. forces secured the airport and convinced the Panamanians holding the American hostages to release them unharmed.
As the Americans waited in the sweltering heat of terminal, which was in flames in some sections, Rynecky told how the soldiers dangled her daughter in the open during the gunfire.
Two women hostages
Mary Rebhan, 24, of Hollywood, Fla., and Tara King, 25, of Dallas, told reporters they were used as shields to buy time for a group of Noriega loyalists who holed up in a sweltering customs room at Omar Torrijos International Airport when American forces moved in.
"They had us in choke holds for most of the time," said Rebhan.
"They made us kneel down and held guns to my back and to her head," said King.
The two women said they had gone to the airport Tuesday evening to pick up Rebhan's brother, when bombs started to drop.
Dashing inside the terminal, the women were taken hostage.
American troops began to arrive in force to take over the airport but the Panamanians held them off with the women.
"For six hours they made us keep shouting, `Go away. We're Americans. They're going to kill us and the children if you come,"' Rebhan said.
Just before dawn, the Americans set a deadline of 6:30 for the men to surrender and told them they were surrounded and that General Noriega was already dead.
The troops' arrival late Wednesday night ended a day of terror for 30 to 40 guests and staff, who had endured several raids and abductions by armed Panamanians after the U.S. assault.
The gunmen seized 15 people, and all but two eventually were released. Jon Meyersohn of CBS and Daniel Sarria, the hotel's resident manager were apparently still being held hostage Thursday.