BEIJING: Two men, who allegedly tried to hijack a plane in far western China by battering the cockpit door with a crutch and trying to set off explosives, have died from injuries sustained in a fight with passengers and crew.

State media reported yesterday that six Uighur men were arrested on Friday following the foiled hijack attempt in the Xinjiang region. Four crew members were injured in the tussle. Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Uighurs but is ruled by China’s ethnic majority Hans. There have been clashes between authorities and Uighurs resentful of government controls over their religion and culture.

An overseas rights group says the incident wasn’t a hijacking attempt but an in-flight brawl over a seat dispute.

The state-run Global Times newspaper reported that two of the suspects had died in hospital from injuries sustained in the fight with passengers and crew, but didn’t say when. Global Times said two others were admitted to hospital after mutilating themselves, but gave no details.

The report said authorities were investigating how the men, aged 20 to 36, managed to get the explosives past security checks. Xinjiang regional government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin said she was unable to confirm whether any of the suspects had died.

Hou said the men took apart a pair of aluminium crutches and used the pieces to attack people while trying to break into the cockpit. She said they also had material believed to be explosives but that was still being tested by the police.

The plane, carrying 92 passengers and nine crew members, returned safely to Hotan city in southern Xinjiang 22 minutes after take-off, according to operator Tianjin Airlines. – Sapa-AP