A hijacked aircraft carrying 193 passengers landed safely in Geneva early Monday morning. The Ethiopia Airlines Boeing 767-300 was headed for Rome, leaving the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa Sunday evening. As the plane entered Italian airspace, the pilot got up to go to the restroom.
That is when the unnamed co-pilot hijacked the aircraft. Locking himself in the cockpit, he seized the controllers around 3:30 am GMT. Originally signaling to Italian air traffic controllers that he needed to refuel, the co-pilot soon sent out the message that he had actually hijacked the aircraft.
Last 10 minutes of Hijacked ET702 on FR24 + LiveATC as YouTube clip http://t.co/EcflguUBzD
— Flightradar24.com (@flightradar24) February 17, 2014
Early reports from the Ethiopian government stated that multiple people were involved in the takeover, but the experience from the Geneva airport where the flight landed suggested differently. Some of the confusion may have been in the code used by the co-pilot to signal that he in fact was the lone hijacker.Robert Deillon, CEO of Geneva airport, said his team was made aware by a special code used by pilots to let the ground know when a flight has been overtaken.
“There is… a code for hijack. So this co-pilot put in the code for ‘I just hijacked the aircraft’,” Deillon said. It is very rare that a pilot or co-pilot would hijack their own aircraft, but in this case it proved to be the truth.
The Ethiopian co-pilot, a young man around 30 years of age, safely landed the plane on the runway. He was accompanied by two Italian fighter jets who had flown beside the 767 as soon as the hijacking was reported. Lowering himself down by a rope through the cockpit window, the co-pilot willingly surrendered himself to police. As he walked towards them, he was pleading for asylum, stating that he was in danger from the Ethiopian government.
The actions of the co-pilot are so extreme, it has many media outlets listening to his claims. Ethiopia has been under fire for their intolerance of political opposition. Facing 20 years in prison for hostage charges associated with the hijacked aircraft, the Ethiopian national is hoping that the Swiss will hear his story.
After sitting on the runway for over an hour, the largely unaware passengers and crew were helped to the ground by emergency crews. The largely Italian passenger list, 140 of the 193 people, mostly were confused and inconvenienced by the incident. As were thousands of others, with flights being canceled throughout the airport while they dealt with the hijacking.
At this point it is unclear what fate awaits the Ethiopian co-pilot, but the hijacked aircraft situation has certainly made his chances for asylum murky at best.