A hijacked Ethiopian Airlines flight has been forced to land in Geneva. The suspect - the plane's co-pilot who was seeking asylum - has been arrested and the passengers were able to safely disembark the plane.
On Monday morning, authorities said they had arrested the man suspected of hijacking the flight, which originated in Addis Ababa and was headed to Rome before being diverted to Switzerland. Reports soon emerged that the plane's Ethiopian co-pilot had been the hijacker. He has since asked Swiss officials for asylum.
"He said he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland," Geneva police spokesman Eric Grandjean told a press conference.
Grangean said the 31-year-old co-pilot - later identified as Hailemedhin Abera Tagegn - locked the door when the captain went to the bathroom. He then asked to refuel at Geneva and landed at the airport.
"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."
The co-pilot was unarmed and there was no risk to the passengers, Grangjean added. He is currently being questioned by police.
Greandjean said that, technically, the co-pilot can be charged with "hostage taking," and could face up to 20 years in prison.
Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters that the hijacking began over Italy, Switzerland's southern neighbor, and that two Italian fighter jets were scrambled the accompany the plane.
The co-pilot himself alerted authorities to the hijacking, but the plane's passengers were unaware it had been hijacked.
The aircraft, Ethiopian Airlines flight 702, landed in Geneva just past 6 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) after departing from the Ethiopian capital at 2130 Sunday UTC. It was parked at a far end of a runway and surrounded by police and other emergency vehicles. Police escorted the Boeing 767-300's 2002 passengers and crew from the aircraft into waiting vehicles one by one with their hands over their heads.
Geneva airport temporarily closed to other flights, but operations resumed around two hours after the plane landed.
"We hope everything will return to normal in the afternoon," Deillon said.
According to police, it was the first time a hijacked plane had been forced to land in Geneva since 1987, and the first time in Swiss history a co-pilot had hijacked an aircraft.
dr/mkg (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)