Ethiopian co-pilot hijacks own plane to seek asylum

2014-02-17 15:45

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Geneva – A co-pilot of Ethiopian Airlines hijacked his own airplane with more than 200 people on board and diverted it to Geneva to seek asylum in Switzerland, Swiss police said.

After flight number ET 702 landed at Geneva airport this morning instead of its planned destination at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, the 31-year-old man was arrested, leaving all passengers unharmed.

The suspect apparently used a brief absence of the main pilot to commit the hijacking, said Eric Grandjean, spokesperson of the Geneva police.

“When the captain went to the toilet, he locked himself in the cockpit,” he said.

The jet took off shortly after midnight from Addis Ababa. When the airplane left its destined course, the Italian air force scrambled fighter jets.

“The two Eurofighters ... intercepted an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 flying from Addis Ababa to Fiumicino and diverted to Geneva by an air pirate who asked for asylum in Switzerland,” the air force said in a statement.

French air force jets escorted the aircraft across the Alps, it added.

Geneva airport was shut down and numerous flights to and from Geneva were cancelled. Shortly after landing, the co-pilot climbed out of the aircraft through a cockpit window and surrendered to police. He said he was not safe in Ethiopia and wanted asylum in Switzerland, according to Grandjean.

“This man’s chances [for asylum] are not very high,” said Pierre Maudet, the security councillor of the government of the canton of Geneva.

The prosecution office in Geneva said the co-pilot faced up to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and violating aviation security.

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