Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacks own flight to seek Swiss asylum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 February, 2014, 2:51pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 3:45am


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The co-pilot of an Ethiopian Airlines flight hijacked his aircraft yesterday while the captain went to the toilet and forced it to land in Geneva so that he could seek asylum.

The man was arrested after descending from the cockpit window on a rope, according to Geneva police spokesman Eric Grandjean.

Watch: Co-pilot hijacks Ethiopian plane to seek Swiss asylum

The co-pilot said he seized his chance to take over flight ET 702 from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to Rome by locking himself in the cockpit when the pilot went to the toilet.

He told police "he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland", Grandjean added.

The Italian news agency Ansa quoted passenger Francesco Cuomo as saying the co-pilot threatened to crash the plane if the pilot kept trying to get back into the cockpit.

Cuomo, 25, was quoted as saying that the hijacker spoke poor English on a loudspeaker when he made the threat. He said the oxygen masks then came down.

Ethiopian Information Minister Redwan Hussein named the hijacker as Haile Medehin Abera Tagegn, who was born in 1983, and had been working with the national carrier for five years.

"So far it is known that he was medically sane, until otherwise is proven through the investigation which is going on right now," the minister said.

A total of 202 passengers and crew were on board the Boeing 767 as the drama played out.

"The co-pilot told air transport authorities he had a problem with his plane and needed to fill up with jet fuel. He then set off a distress signal indicating the plane was hijacked, before saying he had engine trouble," Grandjean said.

Fighter jets escorted the plane from Italian airspace.

"He parked the plane on the taxiway, he cut the engines then opened the cockpit window, threw out a rope and used it to descend to the tarmac," Grandjean said. "He ran towards the police and immediately identified himself as the co-pilot and hijacker."

Tagegn told police he acted alone, but as a precaution all those on board were frisked as they left the plane. Many were unaware that the flight destination had changed, Swiss authorities said. The flight distance between Geneva and Rome is less than two hours.