Co-pilot hijacks Ethiopian Airlines flight, diverts course to Geneva

BY Zachary Treu  February 17, 2014 at 4:04 PM EST
Photo by Flickr user Peter Russell http://www.flickr.com/photos/11811587@N04/

A hijacker redirected an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Geneva in hopes of attaining political asylum in Switzerland. Photo by Flickr user Peter Russell.

An Ethiopian Airlines jet en route to Rome from Addis Ababa landed safely in Geneva, Switzerland, early Monday morning after a hijacking attempt by the plane’s co-pilot.

According to the Associated Press, the alleged hijacker had no prior criminal record and had been employed by Ethiopian Airlines for five years. He sought political asylum in Switzerland.

The hijacker allegedly locked himself in the cockpit after the captain left to use the bathroom, threatened over the intercom to crash the airplane and sent out a coded signal announcing that he had hijacked the plane.

Italian and French fighter jets scrambled to accompany the plane as it crossed over Europe. The hijacker surrendered to Swiss police after landing in Geneva. No injuries were reported.

According to Reuters, the unarmed hijacker exited through the cockpit’s window via a rope.

Around 200 people were travelling on the plane, including 11 Americans.

“I realized we weren’t in Italy any longer when I recognized the Alps,” Italian passenger Francesco Cuomo said. “When we started circling above Geneva, we were really afraid.”

Ethiopian Airlines apologized for the “inconvenience” in a brief press release.

Yilikal Getnet of Ethiopia’s opposition Blue party suggested that the hijacker was attempting to make a statement about Ethiopian politics.

“I think he took the measure to convey a message that the … government is not in line with the public,” Getnet said.

Ethiopia’s communications minister, Redwan Hussein, said that the country will likely seek the hijacker’s extradition. Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said that he will be charged with taking hostages — a crime punishable for up to 20 years in prison.

The hijacker may also face charges in Ethiopia, which has seen a number of hijacking incidents in the last two decades.

In November 1996, hijackers took over a flight from Ethiopia to Ivory Coast and demanded to go to Australia. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed near Comoros, killing 125 of the 175 passengers.