‘I’m The Hijacker!’ Says Ethiopian Pilot Of Commandeered Jet

By Mark Memmott NPR

Details are starting to come out about what it was like Monday when one of the pilots of an Ethiopian Airlines flight reportedly locked himself in the cockpit and flew the jet and its 193 passengers to Geneva, Switzerland, instead of Rome, its intended destination.

According to The Wall Street Journal:

“The high-altitude drama started when the chief pilot of the Boeing 767-300 left the airliner’s cockpit to use the toilet, said Robert Deillon, chief executive of the Geneva airport. The hijacker then locked the cockpit door and took control of the aircraft, he said.

“The Italian military scrambled two Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to intercept the plane, though it said the Ethiopian Airlines plane never displayed ‘hostile intent’ as it flew through the country’s airspace.

“French fighters picked up the aircraft when it entered French airspace, accompanying it to Geneva, where according to Fredrik Lindahl, chief executive of Flightradar24, a flight-tracking website, it circled ‘extensively around Lake Geneva’ before landing.”

You can follow the jet’s path around Geneva, and hear the pilot’s conversation with air traffic controllers, on this YouTube clip.

Once on the ground, Reuters reports, the pilot “made his exit 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. The airliner could later be seen with a knotted yellow rope dangling from an open cockpit window.”

The flight, ET702, left Addis Ababa on Sunday evening.

As for the hijacker’s chances of getting asylum, The Associated Press writes that:

“Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said the co-pilot will be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The Swiss federal prosecutors’ office said later Monday that it had taken over the case.

“Jornot said the hijacker’s chances of winning asylum were slim. ‘Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here,’ he said. ‘But I think his chances are not very high.’ ”

News outlets, including the AP, say authorities have identified the hijacker as Hailemedhin Abera, who is said to be about 30 years old.

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