No Ordinary Hijacking

Wheelchair-bound hijacker is escorted from Colombian airliner, Bogota, Colombia, 9-12-05
AP
Colombia questioned its own airline security measures and ordered an immediate review after a hijacking in which authorities say a father in a wheelchair dodged a checkpoint and smuggled grenades onto a plane.

The Colombian government says the father and his son surrendered five hours after commandeering the Aires airliner around midday Monday after it departed from the southern city of Florencia on a flight headed to Colombia's capital, Bogota.

The plane, with at least 24 people aboard, including an American, landed in Bogota after the hijackers made a radio call to air traffic control indicating they had taken control, said Gen. Edgar Lesmez, chief of the Colombian Air Force.

The hijackers allowed government negotiators and a Roman Catholic priest to board while the twin-propeller plane sat on the tarmac. All passengers and crew were eventually freed unharmed before the hijackers, 42-year-old Porfirio Ramirez and his 22-year-old son, Linsen Ramirez, gave up and were arrested.

The older Ramirez boarded the plane in a wheelchair that was too large to pass through an airport metal detector, and he was not patted down by security agents, Luis Octavio Rojas, director of the Florencia airport, told The Associated Press.

A statement late Monday from President Alvaro Uribe's office said the Civil Aviation authority must find out "what allowed someone to take advantage of his disabled condition to pass through the security checks ... with grenades."

Rojas acknowledged his airport security agents only gave the elder Ramirez "a visual inspection."

Uribe's office said: "Remember that nobody is exempt or excluded from security controls at airports."

According to the government statement, the elder hijacker said he hijacked the plane to bring attention to a case in which he was partially paralyzed by a police bullet during a raid on his house some 14 years ago and had unsuccessfully sought government compensation.

Sen. Carlos Moreno, who helped negotiate the standoff, said a $43,000 check was handed to the hijackers as part of a "deal" between the government and the hijackers, but the government would not honor it.

No concessions were ever made to the hijackers, the government said.

Attorney General Mario Iguaran said the elder Ramirez led the hijacking and if convicted faces 25 to 40 years in prison for aggravated hijacking of an aircraft. He expressed sympathy for the man's case, but added: "Unfortunately he has to be brought to justice."

The elder Ramirez, speaking to reporters before being transferred to a jail cell, said he has "no reason to regret" his actions Monday and said that during the negotiation the government "said they would help me" and that they "would give me an indemnity, because that's what I need."

The government said Monday it plans to review his request for compensation, but said this would not affect the severe charges he faces.

A U.S. citizen was among the passengers on the hijacked flight, said a U.S. official in Bogota, who spoke on condition of anonymity. No other details were available on the American.

By Dan Molinski