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Colombian plane with 25 people aboard hijacked

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A father in a wheelchair and his son hijacked an airliner Monday, claiming to be armed with grenades, but they freed all the passengers more than four hours after landing in Bogota, authorities said. The crew was reported still on the plane.

The Aires plane, believed to be carrying 20 passengers and five crew, had left the southern city of Florencia when it was commandeered, air force Gen. Edgar Lesmez said. The plane landed in Bogota, its original destination, but at a military airfield next to the civilian El Dorado Airport.

The hijackers demanded a meeting with representatives of the Catholic Church, the attorney general's office and a human rights organization, officials said, and government negotiators and a priest spoke with them while the twin-propeller plane stood on the tarmac.

It was not known if the men made any other demands.

Live television broadcasts later showed people filing off the plane. A negotiator confirmed to The Associated Press by phone from inside the plane that the passengers had been let go, but that the crew remained on board.

The hijackers earlier allowed five women and two babies to leave the plane, Bogota's police chief, Gen. Luis Alberto Gomez, said.

Martin Gonzalez, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, identified the hijackers as Luis Ramirez, about 42, and his son Linsen Ramirez, about 22.

They did not appear to belong to any of Colombia's illegal armed groups, said Gen. Alberto Ruiz, chief of operations for the National Police. "They seem to be common citizens," he told reporters.

The drama riveted Colombians, who tuned to radios and TV sets. They listened to one hostage, while still on the plane, describe the scene in a furtive cell phone conversation with local RCN radio.

"They have indicated to us they have explosives," Reinaldo Duque, the hostage, said in a hushed voice.

Duque, who works in Colombia's Congress, said all the passengers were herded to the rear of the Dash-8 plane while a priest spoke with the hijackers in the front. Duque said the older hijacker boarded the plane in a wheelchair.

The wheelchair was too large to pass through a metal detector at the Florencia airport, and the man was not patted down by security agents, Luis Octavio Rojas, the airport's director, told AP.

"But they did give him and the chair a visual inspection," Rojas said.

Among those on the plane was congressman Antonio Serrano, his assistant, Consuelo Barragan, told RCN television.

It was the second time an Aires flight has been hijacked on the same route.

In February 2002, members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia hijacked an Aires plane flying from Florencia to Bogota, forced it to land on a rural highway and kidnapped a Colombian senator who was aboard. Other passengers and the crew were left alone.

That hijacking led the government to cancel peace talks with the rebel group, which has been waging war in this Andean nation for four decades. The senator, Jorge Gechen Turbay, president of the Senate's peace commission, remains a hostage.