A hijacked Kuwaiti airliner that was running low on fuel landed at Larnaca Airport Friday.
Earlier, the airliner pilot claiming a gun was pointed at his head begged authorities to let him land the jumbo jet at the closed Beirut airport, and the hijackers threatened to force the plane to land "in the sea," officials and sources said.Lebanese and Syrian authorities refused to yield.
At 6:45 p.m. two hours after the plane carrying about 50 hostages began circling the airport the pilot told the control tower: "Tell the ministers of justice and interior and public works that we are compelled to land. We have no other choice."
Sources told United Press International the tower answered: "No way. . . . You have to shoulder the consequences of your acts."
The pilot's reply: "If in minutes the airport is not opened and we are allowed to land, we will land in the sea."
At the same time, negotiations began between the hijackers and Akram Shehayyeb, an assistant to Public Works Minister Walid Jumblatt, leader of the pro-Syrian Druse militia.
Authorities repeatedly have refused requests by the pilot, passengers and hijackers to allow the plane to land and refuel at the closed Beirut airport. Security officials said the anti-aircraft batteries of Syrian troops surrounding the airport were pointed skyward, and the troops have threatened to open fire on the airplane if it tries to land.
The airport has been under Syrian control since Feb. 22, 1986, when Damascus dispatched 7,000 troops to end three years of militia rule in west Beirut.
The Boeing 747 began circling the closed airport at 4:50 p.m. (12:50 p.m. MDT). Fifteen minutes later, the pilot called Beirut control tower and said he had to land "even for five minutes to refuel the aircraft," an official at the control tower told United Press International.
He pleaded for permission to land in several contacts with the control tower as he repeatedly circled the closed Syrian-controlled airport. But authorities refused to yield.
At one point during the contacts with the tower, one of the hijackers began shouting: "Despite your minister, I will bring down the plane," security sources quoted the angry hijacker as saying.
"I will bring the plane down even in the sea," he shouted.
The blue-and-white aircraft took off from Mashad Airport in northeastern Iran at 2:28 p.m. local time (6:58 a.m. EDT), almost 80 hours after the hijackers forced the plane down and demanded the release of 17 extremists jailed in Kuwait.
Despite reports that three members of the ruling Kuwaiti family were on the plane, Kuwait has refused to give in to the hijackers' demand and said it would hold Tehran responsible for "any possible complications" because the Iranians allowed the plane to leave Mashad.
"There is a gun pointed at my head," the pilot, believed to be an Iraqi, told the control tower, an airport official told UPI. "I demand that I be allowed to land for refueling."
An official at the tower answered the pilot, saying, "We have been living for 12 years with guns aimed at us. We are waiting instructions from senior officials whether to allow your plane to land or not."
Tower control officials said the plane made at least 14 runs over the airport, which was closed earlier Friday when reports indicated the Boeing 747 was heading toward Lebanon. The hijackers indicated initially they would continue to fly over the airport until they were allowed to land.
The last time a hijacked plane was routed to Beirut was in 1985. It also was the longest hijacking on record.
In the 1985 incident, Moslem Shiite gunmen commandeered TWA flight 847 on a flight from Athens to Rome, beginning a 17-day drama, during which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. The hijackers demanded the release of some 700 Shiite prisoners in jails in Israel and detention camps in southern Lebanon, as well as the release of the 17 extremists imprisoned in Kuwait.
One member of the Kuwaiti royal family on board has been in contact with the control tower, airport and security officials said.
"You should let them land because they will blow up the plane and the fuel will run out," Anwar al Sabah told the tower, according to the officials.
Another passenger, identified as Suleiman Khairat, also pleaded with the control tower. "I beg you to let us land. . . . Fuel is not sufficient to fly us to another airport."
But security officers at the airport said acting Prime Minister Selim Hoss instructed airport authorities "not to let the plane land even if it runs out of fuel."
Iranian authorities allowed the plane to be refueled Thursday at Mashad.