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Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacks his own plane to seek asylum in Switzerland

Ethiopian Airlines flight 702 passengers, on scheduled service departing from Addis Ababa on 17 February 2014 at 00:30 (local time) and scheduled to arrive in Rome at 04:40 (local time), were forced to proceed to Geneva,Switzerland on Monday morning after being hijacked by the plane's own co-pilot.

Sources report that, the co-pilot took control of the plane by locking the cockpit door when the main pilot took a bathroom break. He then proceeded to overshoot Rome, where the flight was scheduled to land, before heading over 400 miles away to the Swiss city of Geneva. The first officer then reported the hijacking to airport transponders.

The aircraft ET-AMF, a Boeing 767-300ER, circled around Geneva Airport (GVA) for quite a while. Repeatedly, “asylum” was requested. The aircraft was provided a military escort, and emergency crews were standing by at Geneva Airport ready to meet the aircraft.The co-pilot then landed at Geneva International Airport.

It appears that discussions with airport officials continued after landing, before the co-pilot-turned-hijacker left the plane through a window on a rope. After leaving the aircraft he then surrendered to police, requesting asylum in Switzerland.

Reports indicate that the passengers were blissfully unaware of the situation until they touched down. They were heavily searched upon exiting the aircraft, after which the airline began efforts to get all 193 passengers – mostly Italian nationals – to their final destinations.

The unarmed hijacker's own fate is unclear. Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, 31, is an Ethiopian national who has worked for Ethiopian Airlines for five years.  The hijacker could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years on charges of hostage-taking.

Geneva police told reporters that Hailemedhin was requesting asylum in Geneva for fear of persecution in his native country, but the Ethiopian government released a statement saying that such action “flies in the face of Article 32 of the Ethiopian constitution, which guarantees the freedom of any citizen to leave the country at any time.”

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