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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Co-pilot who threatened to crash Ethiopia Airlines plane before flying it to Geneva was 'in mourning for his dead uncle'

Co-pilot who threatened to crash Ethiopia Airlines plane before flying it to Geneva was 'in mourning for his dead uncle'

After six hours without any word of what was happening, the plane began circling, leaning one way then the other, at which point he was convinced they were about to crash.
He said: 'I was thinking : that’s it, we’re crashing into something. Looking down to the window I see a light, two, three, I can’t see what’s ahead.
'It’s still dark. We’re going fast, we’re flying over many houses now. And suddenly, under us, the airport. Just thinking again about this moment makes me shiver. We are landing. WE, are LANDING.
'Is this true? Is this a miracle? We touched the ground, and the plane eventually stopped completely in a bit away from the plane entrance to the terminal.
'I remember crying, while most of the people were applauding.'
He says they were then told about the co-pilot and warned that police would be boarding the plane shortly to evacuate them.
He added: 'We were checked and accompanied very kindly by the Swiss. There were sandwiches, hot chocolate, and free wifi.
'My mother was there, we went for a walk along the Leman lake and she cooked some good meal. The psychological impact is not negligible, I'm still in a state of shock.'
One of Abera's surviving uncles, Alemu Asmamaw, told the Associated Press that his nephew had been distressed over the death of another uncle.
Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said the co-pilot will be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years.
Earlier today it was emerged that French fighter jets had to accompany a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane into Geneva airport because the Swiss air-force only work during regular office hours.
The Swiss pilots were alerted to the problem at 4.30am but are only operational in normal office hours - not before 8am.
A Swiss airforce spokesman Laurent Savary told AFP: 'Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend. It's a question of budget and staffing.'
The Boeing 767-300 aircraft with 202 passengers and crew on board had taken off from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and landed in Geneva at about 6am local time with just 20 minutes of fuel remaining.
The plane circled around Geneva until the co-pilot, who had no criminal record and was declared medically sane, heard a direct response about his requests for asylum, it has been reported.
Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters that the co-pilot, took control of the plane when the pilot left the cockpit.
According to Sky News, passengers said the pilot repeatedly demanded the co-pilot open the cockpit door but the hijacker refused and threatened to crash the plane if the pilot carried on.
‘The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit,’ Mr Deillon said.
The man 'wanted asylum in Switzerland',' he said. ‘That's the motivation of the hijacking.’
The hijacking began over Italy, Switzerland's southern neighbour, and two Italian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane, Mr Deillon said.
The co-pilot himself alerted authorities to the plane's hijacking, officials added - though passengers on the plane were unaware it had been hijacked. After landing in Geneva, the co-pilot exited the cockpit using a rope and turned himself in to authorities.
Police escorted passengers one by one, with their hands above their heads, from the taxied plane to waiting vehicles.
Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said Swiss federal authorities were investigating the hijacking and would press charges which could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Geneva airport was initially closed to other flights, but operations resumed around two hours after the hijacked plane landed.
‘We hope everything will return to normal in the afternoon,’ Mr Deillon added.
The flight apparently began emitting a 'hijacking code' as it flew over Sudan and this was picked up by aviation site Airlinereporter.com.
It tweeted in the early hours of Monday morning: 'Ethiopian Airlines’ Flight 702 Squawks “HiJacking” for Reasons Unknown.'
It reported that this beacon, known as a '7500', cannot come from a glitch.
The website said that the co-pilot kept the plane in the air over Switzerland and France until his asylum request was mentioned.
Ethiopian Airlines is owned by Ethiopia's government, which has faced persistent criticism over its rights record and alleged intolerance for political dissent.
Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia's human rights record 'has sharply deteriorated' over the years.
The rights group says authorities severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
The government has been accused of targeting journalists, opposition members, as well as the country's minority Muslim community.  


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