Travelers on a flight from Addis Ababa to Rome got a rude awakening earlier today — as did its pilot. When the captain of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 got out of the cockpit to use the restroom, his co-pilot locked him out and took control of the plane. Instead of Rome, the co-pilot flew to Geneva, Switzerland, where he landed, climbed out of the cockpit using a rope, and asked for asylum:
An Ethiopian Airlines plane destined for Rome was forced to land early Monday in Geneva, where the hijacker was arrested, authorities said.
Police later said the hijacker was a co-pilot who surrendered and asked for asylum. They said the co-pilot locked the cockpit door and grabbed control of the plane when the pilot went to the bathroom.
According to Robert Deillon, Director of Geneva International Airport, the co-pilot left the plane by climbing out of a cockpit window and lowering himself down on a rope, where he was greeted by police.
It’s a bizarre case, but not entirely without precedent. One parallel would be to the mysterious end of Egypt Air 990 crash in 1999. In that incident, the NTSB concluded that the first officer had attempted to seize control of the aircraft. The crash resulted from the two pilots struggling over the controls, and that it was likely that the first officer was attempting to commit suicide by crashing the plane. Just a few months later, another Egypt Air pilot sought asylum in London after landing his plane there, claiming to have knowledge of the EA990 crash (which was that the co-pilot had been demoted by an executive on that particular flight).
This time, the intent was more benign. It’s not clear what the co-pilot was seeking asylum from as of yet. The CIA World Factbook gives a fairly rosy picture of Ethiopia, a multiparty parliamentary republic which has been relatively peaceful for several years and which just had its first peaceful transition of power in decades.
The Swiss took him into custody, but aren’t saying much. Neither is Ethiopian Air. Perhaps the passengers will have more to say later, but the airline is trying to get them a flight to Rome, and understandably quickly.