A man in his early twenties had his right hand cut off by what may have been machete during a fight last night near the corner of 15th Street and Columbia Road NW, witnesses and police said.

Police said they did not know the identity of the man, who was airlifted in stable condition to Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore for reconstructive surgery.

The incident occurred about 10:30 p.m., witnesses and police said. The victim, who left a trail of blood, crossed Columbia Road and staggered about 100 yards away from the corner with 15th Street before collapsing behind a parked taxi.

Witnesses said that about 20 men had been standing in the 3000 block of 15th Street when an argument broke out. The witnesses said they believed that the men had been drinking.

Matt Komoroski, who lives at 3019 15th St., said he saw a group of men chasing a younger man south on the street, throwing bricks at him.

Other witnesses, who refused to be identified, said the group of men caught up to the victim at a pay phone near the corner of 15th and Columbia. One witness said a man in a red shirt pulled some sort of knife out of the trunk of a car and cut off the victim's hand.

The man dropped the knife and sped away in the car, the witness said. Several witnesses said that as the men fled north on 15th Street, one of them picked the knife up and took it with him.

Police said they did not recover a weapon at the scene and that their investigation was being hampered because no one was willing to talk to them.