UPDATE: Co-Pilot Hijacks Ethiopian Plane And Requests Asylum In Geneva

UPDATE: Co-Pilot Hijacks Ethiopian Plane And Requests Asylum In Geneva

By The New York Times on February 17, 2014

The co-pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet en route to Rome from Ethiopia seized control of the Boeing 767-300 early on Monday and flew it to Geneva, where he asked for asylum, a spokesman for the Geneva police said.

The plane landed safely, and none of the 202 passengers and crew members on Flight ET-702, which originated in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, were injured, the police spokesman, Eric Grandjean, said. “Everybody was safe from beginning to end — no problem,” he added. Other officials said passengers were unaware of the hijacking until the plane landed in Switzerland.

The plane was in Italian airspace when the co-pilot, an Ethiopian national who was not immediately identified, took the controls when the pilot left the cockpit to use the restroom. After locking the cockpit door, he initially told Italian air controllers he needed fuel but then activated a transponder to signal that the plane was being hijacked, Mr. Grandjean said. Italian fighter jets were scrambled and escorted the aircraft out of Italian airspace.

The plane landed in Geneva at 6:02 a.m. and continued to a taxiway, where the co-pilot cut the engines, opened the cockpit window and lowered himself to the tarmac with a rope, officials said. He then ran toward security officers and identified himself as the hijacker, declared that he was in danger in Ethiopia and requested asylum, the officials added.

A Geneva prosecutor, Olivier Jornot, said the co-pilot will be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison, The Associated Press reported. He added that the man’s chances of winning asylum were slim. “Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here,” he said, according to The A.P. “But I think his chances are not very high.”

Ethiopian Airlines, in a statement published on its website, confirmed all passengers aboard the flight were safe and said it was making immediate arrangements for them to continue to their destinations.

The airport was closed briefly but normal operations were resuming quickly Monday.

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