Early Monday morning, Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300 was bound for Rome when it was hijacked by a co-pilot identified as Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn. The hijacker waited for the pilot to take a toilet break then locked himself inside the cockpit.
Tagegn steered the plane to Geneva, Switzerland seeking asylum. He then announced via radio that he would land in Geneva for emergency re-fuelling, and set off the alarm for a hijacking alert. In response to the alarm, French military jet and at least two Italian fighter jets escorted the hijacked plane as it flew through Europe. The plane eventually landed at the Geneva International Airport.
According to the Swiss police, the hijacker parked the plane on the taxiway before opening the cockpit window and descending the tarmac with the use of a rope. He willingly surrendered to the police and identified himself as the hijacker and co-pilot. Reports also indicate that the hijacker was unarmed and all 202 passengers and crew on the plane were safe. Geneva International Airport was shut down during the incident, but was re-opened the same day.
Many of the plane’s passengers were shaken by the events that transpired. Francesco Cuomo, one of the passengers of the plane said that Tagegn spoke through the speakers and threatened to crash the plane.
Swiss police’s spokesperson Philippe Grangean said that the Tagegn wanted to seek asylum in Switzerland, as he feels threatened in Ethiopia and feared being persecuted.
Tagegn can face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of hostage-taking. During a news conference in Ethiopia, Information Minister Redwan Hussein stated that the hijacker had no criminal record whatsoever and had been serving as a co-pilot for Ethiopian Airlines for 5 years. Ethiopia will seek extradition of Tagegn.
This is not the first time an Ethiopian Airlines flight was hijacked. A flight was also hijacked by 3 Ethiopians in 1996. The hijackers were seeking Asylum in Australia, but the plane ran out of fuel and went down in the Indian Ocean killing 125.
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