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Mexican Hijack Drama Ends

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Now, to a dramatic story out of Mexico today. A hijacker seized an Aeromexico plane carrying about 100 passengers. It was leaving the resort of Cancun. The hijackers threatened to blow up the plane unless he was allowed to speak to Mexico's president. The plane landed in Mexico City. Passengers and crew were released unharmed, and the hijacker is now in custody. Reporter Michael O'Boyle joins us from Mexico City.

And Michael, take us through how this hijacking unfolded today, please.

Mr. MICHAEL O'BOYLE (Reporter, Reuters News, Mexico Bureau): Yes. It was quite dramatic. We didn't hear of the hijacking until the plane was actually safe on the ground in Mexico City. You know, scores of federal police swarmed the plane - the whole situation was resolved fairly quickly live on television. All the passengers are safe.

During the flight, a man had a box. He said he had a bomb or what looked like a bomb in it. I know the government is saying it turned out there were no explosive charges in the device. So, there - actually it wasn't a threat at any time. But it's still caused quite a panic and, you know, pushed the security forces to respond to this as if it was a serious threat.

BLOCK: And as we say, the passengers and crew were released unharmed. What have they been saying there at the airport of Mexico City?

Mr. O'BOYLE: Well, some of the passenger, especially the ones in coach, they said they had no idea anything had been happening during the flight. They didn't even know the flight was hijacked until they were actually on the ground and saw, you know, that there were police trucks and emergency vehicles surrounding the plane, then they knew something was up. The pilot issued a statement but the panic apparently never gripped the passengers at any point. You know, it was resolved fairly quickly, and they are all safe.

BLOCK: Now, Mexican authorities held a news conference after the hijacking today. What do they say about the identity of the hijacker and his motivation?

Mr. O'BOYLE: Right. Well, initial reports said there were three Bolivians sort of hijacked the plane. What actually turns out is that there was one man, Jose Mar Flores who is Bolivian and he's a self-proclaimed religious preacher. He hijacked the plane. He - and his apparent reason was that he had a divine vision that there was going to be a massive earthquake that would strike Mexico City, and he wanted to communicate this to Felipe Calderon. The reason he chose today to make his hijack attempt was also, he described, a religious significance through the date, today is September 9th, 2009, that would be 9-9-9, and he apparently - you know, put big significance in the state.

So the initial reports had up to three hijackers involved. It appeared that was because what this Mr. Flores was saying that he had three people but it was actually apparently, you know, his spiritual advisers: the God and Holy Spirit, who were also helping him hijack the plane from his perspective.

BLOCK: Michael, help us understand this. Earlier there were reports that as many as five hijackers had been let away in handcuffs. Who were the other people who had let away in handcuffs then?

Mr. O'BOYLE: Well, it appears that the Mexican police were just quite, you know, perhaps, a bit over zealous in making sure they weren't letting anyone who could have been connected to this hijacking getaway. Again, there's only one person involved. Some of the people were just other passengers in first class that there may have been some doubt whether they were actually connected to the hijacking or not. One of the people who's initially detained was a Mexican lawyer who was quite unhappy about being handcuffs then paraded in front of Mexican television.

BLOCK: All right, I imagine. Michael, thank you very much.

Mr. O'BOYLE: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's reporter Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City, talking about the hijacking today of an Aeromexico plane from Cancun. Again, all of the passengers and crew were released unharmed and the hijackers are in custody. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael O'Boyle
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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