Skip to main content

Co-pilot hijacks Ethiopian Airlines plane, flies to Geneva, seeks asylum

By Larry Register, CNN
updated 6:52 AM EST, Tue February 18, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The hijacker says he feels threatened in his country
  • He took control when the pilot was in the restroom
  • He escaped from the cockpit using a rope and surrendered
  • The passengers and crew were unharmed

(CNN) -- A co-pilot on an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound for Rome hijacked the airliner early Monday morning and flew it to Geneva, Switzerland, looking for asylum.

The man, an Ethiopian in his early 30s, was arrested when the plane landed at Geneva International Airport, police said. The 202 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 767-300 were not harmed.

It was a welcome outcome from the last time an Ethiopian Airlines was hijacked.

In 1996, 125 people died after a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines crashed in the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel. In that case, the hijackers were seeking asylum in Australia.

Taking control

Hear cockpit audio from hijacking

In Monday's incident, Flight 702 had taken off from the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and was headed to Rome, the airline said.

The co-pilot took control of the plane when the pilot went to the restroom, said Swiss police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt.

The co-pilot, who was not named, closed the fortified door, police said. Instead of Rome, he then steered the plane toward Geneva.

At one point, as the plane hovered over Geneva's airspace several times, he asked the control tower:

"And you have to give us lastly permission on board for asylum."

"Yes I know," the tower responded. "Sorry, but we are still waiting for the response. We are trying our best to get you the response, sir."

The surrender

Eventually, the plane landed at Geneva International Airport.

"I will be coming out via the window," the co-pilot told the control tower.

He then escaped through the cockpit window using a rope, and surrendered to police, Brandt said.

He was unarmed, authorities said.

"His act has been motivated by the fact that he feels threatened in his county and wants to make an asylum claim in Switzerland," Swiss police spokesman Philippe Grangean said.

The passengers were not threatened or put in danger, police said.

Ethiopian Airlines, in a statement, would only say the plane was "forced to proceed" to the airport.

During the incident, Geneva International Airport was shut down. It reopened later Monday morning.

While rare, a pilot hijacking an airline is not unheard of.

In 1998, an Air China captain, reportedly disgruntled with life in China, hijacked his passenger jet to Taiwan.

Plane hijacker, jailed in Cuba, seeks U.S. plea deal

'Air pirate' tries to hijack plane to Sochi

CNN's Marilia Brocchetto and Ric Ward contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:08 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Is the rapid rise of religion in China a threat to the Communist Party's rule?
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
Drinkers guzzled an incredible 10.3 billion liters of this brand in 2013, making it the world's No.1 beer. And you may have never heard of it
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Summer isn't over yet. These new hotels are keeping it alive and fresh.
updated 1:13 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Unlike most twenty somethings starting out in New York City, Zhang Yuzhu is not scrimping to make rent.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
You've seen her turn on the catwalk, but her income might make your head spin.
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
updated 5:04 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
19-year-old Udi Segal explains why he won't join the country's military.
updated 8:34 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
The sights couldn't be sadder: Animals killed or suffering through war in Gaza.
updated 9:14 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
They are the faces of a community on the run. Photographer Warzer Jaff documents the plight of the Yazidis.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
A cameraman films a massive New York City subway rat charging at him and attacking him. WPIX reports.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT