Maltese authorities disclosed today that one of the mysterious Arab gunmen who hijacked an Egyptair jet and turned it into a fiery deathtrap here last night has survived and will be questioned as soon as his condition permits.
As the death toll among the plane's 98 passengers and crew reached 60, some of the survivors gave harrowing accounts of Saturday night and Sunday when the hijackers systematically shot Americans and Israelis and Sunday when the passengers were trapped between the hijackers and Egyptian commandos. The Egyptians fired indiscriminately into the crowded airliner and caused some of the deaths, according to the survivors' accounts.
Malta's prime minister, who said he had authorized the Egyptian assault on the airliner to halt the "executions" the hijackers had begun, said in a speech here that a foreign country had been prepared to intercept the Egyptair plane if Malta had agreed to the hijackers' only known demand -- that the airliner be refueled and allowed to leave Malta. An aide to Prime Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici later named the country as the United States.
Government spokesman Paul Mifsud said that one of the three to five hijackers of Egyptair's Saturday Flight 648 from Athens to Cairo apparently had survived the Egyptian commando assault on the Boeing 737 aircraft. The other hijackers, who claimed to be part of the mysterious Revolutionary Force of Egypt, which opposes Egypt's peace with Israel, perished in the assault.
Mifsud said Maltese police officials had not yet interviewed the wounded hijacker, whose name and nationality were unknown. Late today, he had not come out from under the anesthesia he was given for surgery for his undisclosed wounds.
Statements by surviving passengers and crew members and by Maltese officials helped establish the following points today:
*Two persons were killed by the hijackers and seven wounded, some gravely, before the Egyptian rescue operation began.
*The hijackers "cold-bloodedly and inhumanely" selected the flight's two Israelis and three Americans for "systematic execution," threatening to follow their shootings with those of other westerners whose nations they considered hostile to Arab aims.
*The hijackers sought to talk to two Arab diplomats once they landed. One was unavailable and has not been identified. The other was the Libyan ambassador, who came to the airport Sunday morning but who refused the hijackers' demand that he board the plane to talk to them.
*The United States, which later supported the Egyptian rescue effort, had told Malta that U.S. jets would intercept the hijacked plane and force it to land in a country where the hijackers might be brought to justice if Malta let them leave.
*The hijackers never intended to go to Malta and apparently never told the crew where they intended to go or what demands they would make. The pilot made an emergency landing here because the plane had been damaged during an in-flight shoot-out between a hijacker, who was killed, and an Egyptair security guard, who was seriously wounded.
*Some surviving passengers asserted that the Egyptian commandos who stormed the plane caused needless casualities by firing "indiscriminately" at passengers and hijackers as they attempted to flee the plane.
Today, a day after the assault by the 25-man Egyptian squad flown here in an Egyptian Air Force transport, the Maltese government announced that 60 passengers and crew had died during the hijacking and the counterattack, including eight children and a Canadian baby who previously had not been counted among the passengers because it had not been ticketed.
Malta said two of the passengers were killed before the assault -- an American woman, Scarlett Marie Rogenkamp, 38, of Oceanside, Cal., and a Filipino man, Suman Pablito -- and seven were wounded, including an least one other foreign "force" had threatened to intercept the hijacked plane if it left Malta.
His spokesman later said Mifsud Bonnici had in mind the U.S. interception last month of the same plane over the Mediterranean as it sought to fly Arab hijackers of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro from Cairo to Tunisia.
Several survivors charged that the Egyptian commandos entered the plane firing wildly, probably contributing to the large casualty toll.
Anthony Lyons, an Australian who lives in Britain, said that after the shooting died down, he and other survivors had jumped out of the plane's emergency exit.
Once they reached the ground, he said, "there was a lot of firing from the Egyptian troops, and many people were being shot indiscriminately. This was basically due to the fact that the Egyptian commandos didn't know who was a terrorist and who was a passenger."
Mohammed Wakil, an Egyptian who teaches in Libya, said he had been sitting near the place where the Egyptians entered the plane. After the troops had passed over him as he lay on the floor, he jumped out of the plane.
Wakil said he reached the tarmac unharmed but once there, he was shot by the troops because they could not tell whether he was a hijacker. He was shot in the hand and the leg, but he said, "I am alive."