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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hijacked Cuban Plane Flies to Florida

HAVANA -- A Cuban airliner hijacked by a man apparently armed with hand grenades landed in Key West, Florida, under U.S. military escort Tuesday with 31 people aboard.

The plane landed shortly after 11:34 a.m., U.S. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Christopher White said.

Earlier Tuesday, two separate groups of as many as two dozen passengers, including a woman holding a small child, jumped from the open back hatch of the plane into the arms of emergency workers. The passengers then boarded buses and were driven off the runway.

Later, two white cars drove onto the airport tarmac and a man aboard one car handed three large, stuffed plastic bags to someone inside the plane. It was unknown what was inside the bags.

Cuban authorities originally reported six children among the 46 people aboard the hijacked craft.

It was not immediately clear what led to the passengers' release almost 12 hours after the man seized control of the plane and demanded to be flown to Florida. The Cuban Airlines An-24 was hijacked late Monday on a flight from Cuba's small Isle of Youth to Havana but was forced to land in the capital because it lacked sufficient fuel to make it to the United States, Cuban authorities said.

Shortly after daybreak, a tank with a hose was rolled out onto the tarmac and appeared to be refueling the craft.

The plane was surrounded by several dozen uniformed police officers, and two fire trucks and numerous ambulances were parked nearby.

It would be extremely difficult for an average citizen to get access to grenades in communist-run Cuba, where such weapons are heavily guarded by the military.

It was also unclear how anyone would get a pair of grenades through the heavy security checks at Cuba's airports, especially less than two weeks after a successful hijacking on the same route of a passenger plane to the United States.

All incoming and outgoing air traffic at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport was suspended during the negotiations. A government statement said the Cuban Airlines plane was on a regular passenger flight from the Isle of Youth's main city of Nueva Gerona when the pilot reported that the craft was being hijacked to the United States by a man armed with grenades.

"The Cuban authorities, for their part, will undertake the maximum effort to find a solution that preserves the safety and lives of passengers and crew members," said the statement.

The statement blamed the hijacking attempt on what Havana says is the lax treatment that six other suspected hijackers received after successfully forcing another plane from Cuba to Key West at knifepoint on March 19.

"The entire responsibility of what could happen [in the latest hijack attempt] will fall on the government of that country," the Cuban statement said of the United States.

The suspects in the earlier successful hijack were charged with conspiracy to seize an aircraft by force and violence and face a minimum of up to 20 years in prison.

They were granted bond, but remain behind bars because they have been unable to come up with the money.