The plane's second-in-command, who was not carrying a weapon, took
control of the plane when the pilot left the cockpit to use the
toilet. After landing, he left the aircraft via a cockpit window,
without harming passengers or crew, police spokesman Pierre Grangean
told a news conference.
"Just after landing, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit and ran to
the police and said, 'I'm the hijacker.' He said he is not safe in
his own country and wants asylum," Grangean said.
As passengers left the plane, which was parked near the end of the
runway, they were checked by police as they held their hands on
their necks, a Reuters witness said.
Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa's second most populous country, is
among the continent's fastest growing economies. The opposition and
rights campaigners accuse the government of stifling dissent and
torturing political detainees.
But it is rare for government officials and employees — Ethiopian
Airlines is run by the state — to seek asylum. The last senior
official to do so fled to the United States in 2009.
Flight ET702 departed the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Sunday
evening and was bound for Rome. The plane was hijacked at about 0330
GMT (10:30 PM EST Sunday) while over northern Italy, Grangean said.
It landed at Geneva at 6:02 a.m. (0502 GMT).
He said the co-pilot, an Ethiopian born in 1983, locked the flight
deck door when the pilot went to the toilet. He then asked to refuel
at Geneva, landed the plane, climbed down on an emergency exit rope
from a cockpit window, and gave himself up.
Robert Deillon, CEO of Geneva airport, said air traffic controllers
learnt the plane had been hijacked when the co-pilot keyed a
distress code into the aircraft's transponder,
"There is ... a code for hijack. So this co-pilot put in the code
for 'I just hijacked the aircraft'," he said. As the plane was over
Italy at the time, two Italian Eurofighters were scrambled to
accompany it, he said.
Ethiopian Airlines said in a short statement that the Boeing
aircraft had been "forced to proceed" to Geneva.
State-run Ethiopian television said there were 193 passengers on
board the Boeing aircraft, including 140 Italian nationals.
[to top of second column]
The last senior Ethiopian official to seek asylum was Ermias
Legesse, a state minister of information who fled to the United
States in 2009.
The brief drama in Geneva on Monday morning caused the cancellation
of some short-haul flights and some incoming flights were diverted
to other airports. Hundreds of passengers booked on disrupted
flights sought to change their tickets.
In an apparent recording of a radio communication between the
Ethiopian plane and air traffic control posted on social media site
Twitter, a demand for asylum was made.
"We need asylum or assurance we will not be transferred to the
Ethiopian government," the voice in the recording, apparently the
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the
A flight tracking app for mobile devices showed the flight circling
over the Swiss city several times before landing.
Ethiopian nationals and the Horn of Africa country's flag carrier
have been involved in several hijackings in the past.
In 1993, an Ethiopian used a gun hidden in his hat to hijack a
German passenger jet bound for New York. He was later sentenced to
20 years in a U.S. prison.
Two years later, police in Greece overpowered an Ethiopian hijacker
who held a knife to the throat of an Olympic Airways stewardess and
demanded political asylum.
At least 50 people were killed when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines
passenger jet crashed in the Indian Ocean in 1996.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa and Richard
Lough and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; writing by Richard Lough;
editing by Edmund Blair and John Stonestreet)
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