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4 RESCUED AFTER HIJACKED PLANE CRASHES

SHARE 4 RESCUED AFTER HIJACKED PLANE CRASHES

A small plane hijacked by three Cubans who forced the pilot to fly to Florida plunged into the Gulf of Mexico Friday, but all four were rescued, U.S. officials said.

The four Cubans were plucked from the ocean by a lifeboat from a nearby Russian freighter, about 50 miles off Naples on Florida's west coast. It was the third hijacking linked to Cuba in the past six weeks.One man was taken to a hospital in Fort Myers with a broken nose, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The three Cuban passengers immediately asked for political asylum, while the pilot said he wanted to go home, according to Russian crew members interviewed by U.S. Customs officials.

In Havana, the foreign ministry confirmed a small plane had been hijacked and urged the United States to honor existing immigration accords and hand back the hijackers.

"We hope that the individials involved will be returned in accordance with the existing immigration accords between Cuba and the United States," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marianela Ferriol said.

"If not, this would signify fresh encouragement for violent attempts to emigrate illegally," she added.

Cuban civil aviation officials said earlier that they had no know-ledge of the hijack.

At the time of the crash, U.S. Customs agents said they were pur-suing and videotaping the unidentified small plane as a possible drug smuggler.

"We will definitely explore this as possible drug smuggling, but all indications at this point are that it was not drug-related," said Customs spokesman Mike Sheehan.

Customs radar controllers detected the small aircraft at 7:10 a.m. MDT and sent a Cessna Citation jet to intercept it. The Customs plane followed the suspicious Cuban aircraft for more than an hour until the plane jettisoned its two doors and crashed into the ocean.