Three days after gunmen stormed a schoolroom and took a group of teenagers hostage, bad weather forced them to abort an attempted flight to the Caspian Sea in a helicopter packed with explosives.

Bad weather has forced the kidnappers, who are still holding five hostages, to wait at an airfield in this southern resort town since Friday.The helicopter was forced to turn back less than two hours after taking off early Sunday when it ran into heavy fog and faced the danger of icing, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. The government's emergency headquarters said all those aboard were safe.

The kidnappers, who reportedly want to go to Iran, had been flying to Makhachkala, a town on the Caspian Sea about 250 miles east of Mineralnye Vody, after talks with the government broke down.

Clouds and fog kept the helicopter on the ground all day Saturday while authorities tried to negotiate the release of the remaining captives: two teenaged boys, two pilots and a bus driver.

The kidnappers, armed with three automatic rifles and a pistol, seized about a dozen students Thursday morning in Rostov-on-Don, 600 miles south of Moscow.

They herded the hostages onto a bus, then demanded a military helicopter at an airport and began flying a zig-zag route south, reportedly headed for Iran.

They promised to free the remaining hostages in Makhachkala but demanded to take aboard a special Foreign Ministry envoy, Valentina Petrenko, saying she would be freed once they reach Baku, capital of neighboring Azerbaijan.

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ITAR-Tass said authorities feared the kidnappers would land in the Caucasus Mountains along Russia's southern border and escape, possibly in a car prepared by accomplices.

Eight hostages - seven teenaged girls and a teacher - were freed Friday. Two of their classmates, both boys, were released Saturday at the airport in Mineralnye Vody, 800 miles south of Moscow.

Police and elite "Alpha" commandos surrounded the camouflage-painted Mi-8 helicopter while it was on the ground, ready to attack if ordered.

But Petrenko, who was negotiating with the gunmen, said on Russian television that the kidnappers showed her explosive devices and threatened to blow up the helicopter if attacked.

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