Co-Pilot Hijacks Plane, Demands Asylum

All Ethiopian Airlines passengers safe after Geneva landing
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 17, 2014 2:20 AM CST
Updated Feb 17, 2014 7:51 AM CST
Plane Forced to Land in Geneva, Hijacker Busted
Police stand on the stairs after passengers were evacuated from a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Plane at the airport in Geneva, Switzerland today.   (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

An Ethiopian Airlines plane was hijacked early today by its own co-pilot, who was seeking asylum in Switzerland. The co-pilot locked himself in the cockpit when the pilot went to the toilet, and flew the Boeing 767-300—which had taken off from Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and was headed to Rome—to Geneva, where it landed at about 6am local time. No one onboard was injured in the incident—in fact, none of the 202 passengers realized the plane had been hijacked, despite the fact that two Italian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany it, the AP reports. As the plane circled Geneva's airspace before eventually landing, the hijacker told the control tower, "You have to give us lastly permission on board for asylum," CNN reports.

After landing, the co-pilot exited the cockpit through the window using a rope, announced to nearby police that he was the hijacker, and surrendered. It's not clear why the co-pilot, an Ethiopian man born in 1983, wanted asylum, but the AP notes that the Ethiopian government owns the airline and has been criticized over human rights issues. The hijacking likely didn't help his cause: A Geneva prosecutor says he'll be charged with taking hostages and could face up to 20 years in prison, and adds, "Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here. But I think his chances are not very high." (Read more Switzerland stories.)

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