JERUSALEM, Nov. 23 -- A U.S. envoy to India and his wife were among 50 people rescued from a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed Saturday off the Comoros Islands, Israeli Radio reported. At least 50 people survived Flight ET961 plunge into the Indian Ocean, including one pilot and two of the three hijackers that commandeered the Boeing 767 after it took off from the Ethiopian capital, reporter Ahmed Ibrahim of Comoros Radio said. Italian Foreign Ministry sources, meanwhile, said that of the 178 crew and passengers aboard the plane 55 people were dead, 107 missing and 16 are either injured or safe, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. Israeli Radio reported that about 30 of the 50 survivors were injured. A U.S. State Department spokesman in Washington could not immediately confirm reports that the U.S. consul general to Bombay, Franklin Huddle, and his wife were among the survivors. Reports conflict as to what happened on board the Boeing 767 just before it hit the sea off the Indian Ocean archipelago. Flight ET961 is said to have been carrying 178 passengers and crew when it was hijacked early Saturday after taking off from Addis Ababa. The three hijackers demanded to be flown to Australia. After the pilot replied he did not have enough fuel for such a trip, the plane circled over East Africa, said a senior official of the Ethiopian News Agency, who declined to be named. Comoros police said the hijackers appeared to have set off an explosion, Israel Radio reported.
Witnesses at the crash site said the wrecked plane was broken in two pieces. But Ethiopian Ambassador Solomon Gidada told United Press International in London that the plane had hit the sea as it was attempting an emergency landing near the shores of the four-island Comoros chain. 'It crashed because it was out of fuel, and it was trying to crash- land 2 km (1 miles) from the runway,' Gidada said. Ambassador Gidada said the plane had flown from the Indian city of Bombay to Addis Ababa, and was on its way to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Israeli Radio said the plane had been diverted toward Mauritius, from where the hijackers wished to continue to Australia, when it crashed. Cable News Network reported that by late Saturday about 100 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage. Israeli Radio said the two survivors identified as the U.S. envoy and his wife were both lightly injured. One hijacker died, but the two that survived were in custody, the radio said. So far, little is known of their motives. The radio also said eight Israeli citizens had been on board, but it was not known how many had survived. The Italian news agency said the three Italians known to have been of the plane were reported safe. The Comoros Islands -- Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mwali and Mayotte -- are nestled in the Indian Ocean between the northeast coast of Mozambique and the northern tip of the island of Madagascar some 200 miles off the east coast of Africa. Some 500,000 people live on the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros, which covers 690 square miles (1,862 sq. km). The chain gained independence from France in 1975.