Passengers in the dark as Ethiopian co-pilot hijacks jet
AN Ethiopian co-pilot hijacked his own plane after locking the captain out of the cockpit and flew it to Geneva in an audacious attempt to seek asylum in Switzerland.
The unidentified co-pilot seized control of the Addis Ababa to Rome flight after the captain went to the bathroom while the plane was flying over Italy, police in Geneva said yesterday.
A few minutes after landing at the Swiss airport, the man exited the plane by scaling down a rope he had thrown out of the cockpit window and gave himself up to authorities.
The 202 passengers on board, who were unaware the plane had been hijacked, were then evacuated from the craft and escorted to waiting vehicles with their hands over their heads.
Police said the Ethiopian co-pilot had been unarmed and that there were no signs he had been violent towards fellow crew or passengers. The airport closed for two hours as emergency vehicles descended on the runway after the flight landed at 6am yesterday morning, but has since reopened.
In a series of recordings of radio conversations with authorities, the co-pilot can be heard repeatedly asking for asylum in the European country. "Do you know if we will get the asylum in time?" he asks in one recording. "We need asylum or assurance that we will not be transferred to (inaudible)."
The man had contacted aviation authorities after taking control of the craft and claimed he needed to refuel in Switzerland, Eric Grandjean, a Geneva police spokesman, said.
"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," he said.
"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," the spokesman related. "He ran towards the police and immediately identified himself as the co-pilot and hijacker."
The man said "he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland," Mr Grandjean said.
The hijacker, who has been identified only as an Ethiopian citizen born in 1983, could be charged with "hostage-taking", which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Geneva's chief prosecutor, Olivier Jornot, said there were no signs of violence towards the passengers or fellow crew. (© Daily Telegraph, London)