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Breaking News

Four People Leap From Cockpit of Hijacked Afghan Airliner

Aired February 8, 2000 - 6:16 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: As we have mentioned earlier, just a short time ago, four people jumped out of the cockpit of that hijacked Afghan airliner parked at an airfield near London.

CNN's Chris Burns is there and he joins us now with the very latest -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, that air -- part of the airfield here at Stansted Airport is pitch-black, so very hard to see anything. It's right behind me actually, over my shoulder.

The plane is blacked-out and you can't really see anything, but some pretty dramatic footage that was taken by camera of these four people who jumped out of the cockpit. It's like -- pretty much like jumping out of a two-story building. So we're not quite sure what condition they're in but -- or whether they're hostages, crew or hijackers. Police are not saying exactly who these people are. But there are were four people who managed to bail out of the cockpit just before the top of hour. And we're trying to figure out exactly what the circumstances were there and what condition those four people are in.

Just a while ago, this afternoon, a ninth hostage was released by the hijackers, very peacefully, very calmly, and talks had seemed to be moving right along. In fact, a UNHCR observer had arrived a few hours ago for the talks, raising the speculation that perhaps there might be some kind of deal on releasing -- on ending the standoff, some way by offering some kind of asylum or refuge to some people in the plane.

So a lot of speculation swirling right now around that plane on day three of a very dramatic hijacking that started in Afghanistan, and it has spanned five countries, British officials hoping to resolve this crisis as soon as possible.

Chris Burns reporting live from Stansted Airport in England.

WOODRUFF: Chris, if can you hear me, refresh us now on what it is that these hijackers are asking for, or have been asking for?

BURNS: Well, before I answer that question, we're watching, as we speak, very distantly we see some buses, some vehicles on the tarmac over there near the -- what seems to be near the jet. So there is some kind of movement. We still don't know what it is. Officials have been very -- holding their cards very closely to their chest on this -- on this hijacking. So we're not exactly sure what is happening, but there is some kind of movement, as well as in the negotiations.

As you asked about what the hijackers had been demanding -- in fact, that question was posed at a press conference just a few hours ago. And officials said, it is very delicate at this point, we can't tell you.

Swirling in the British media in the last few hours -- throughout the day, in fact -- was speculation that there could be some kind of asylum offered as a carrot for these hijackers, at least a half-dozen heavily armed hijackers, to finally give up.

So everything is a bit in question as well as the identities of the hijackers. It's very questionable -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Chris, before we let you go, clearly something is taking place there at the airport there. It's -- what? -- close to midnight London time. How close are you to the plane, to these buses? How close are the buses to the plane?

BURNS: Well, that's very hard to determine. We see the buses within, I guess, 100 yards or so of the plane. We are about, say, 300 yards from the plane, something like that, about three football fields: very difficult to make out anything that's going on because it's pitch-black over there, purposely, I'm sure. That the authorities want to keep things very -- very, very sort of invisible for them.

But let's look at the tape of that escape that we managed to get just before the top of the hour where four people -- I think we see at least one person bailing out of the cockpit -- the cockpit window, jumping out.

That's about -- about a two-story drop there, about 20 feet. So we're not sure what kind of condition these people are in.

Some very dramatic developments happening after a couple, three days of -- a couple of days of rather undramatic events, of very constant talks, negotiation, dialog -- officials providing food and water and helping to clean the plane.

It had been sort of a painstaking, slow development. Officials hoping that pointing to a peaceful end -- perhaps that is still possible. But with these dramatic escapes, it's anyone's guess what the next step is -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Burns there at the Stansted Airport outside London.

As Chris just reported, four people have jumped out of the cockpit. We saw in the darkness the people jumping out and what appeared to be figures running from the location of the cockpit along the ground away from the plane. Chris, we're going to ask you to stand by. Clearly, there are developments there and we will ask you to keep us posted.

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