Video: Co-pilot of Ethiopian Airlines flight hijacks plane to Switzerland

posted at 8:01 am on February 17, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

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.

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The co-pilot couldn’t have just landed in Rome and then taken a train to Switzerland? Last I checked, Switzerland is right on the northern boundary of Italy.

Of course, I’m used to living in a world where the US president upholds and enforces the law.

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM

….that’s what the pilot gets…for having to pee?

KOOLAID2 on February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM

What a doofus. That seems like a really bright way to have someone support your cause.

TXMomof3 on February 17, 2014 at 8:10 AM

Txmotherof3? WTF?

Lanceman on February 17, 2014 at 8:10 AM

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Yeah, he’s either a mentalist or there’s alot more to the story.

forest on February 17, 2014 at 8:11 AM

Is everything truly hunky dory there?

cmsinaz on February 17, 2014 at 8:14 AM

What’s the difference in welfare freebies between Italy and Switzerland?

OldEnglish on February 17, 2014 at 8:15 AM

Dumb idea, Rome is awesome while Geneva is sterile and boring.

Bishop on February 17, 2014 at 8:16 AM

The Man From Ethiopia.I couldn’t resist.

docflash on February 17, 2014 at 8:24 AM

Is everything truly hunky dory there?

cmsinaz on February 17, 2014 at 8:14 AM

Nope. This describes Ed’s “CIA World Factbook” paragraph perfectly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwom49awRKg

Federati on February 17, 2014 at 8:25 AM

Deep Purple Fan? Of course that would put him at the other end of the lake wouldn’t it? You got me then. Only been to Geneva once. Nice enough place. No need to return.

Bmore on February 17, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Federation…indeed :)

cmsinaz on February 17, 2014 at 8:43 AM

Things could get ugly there in the water wars…

http://www.ethiopian-news.com/ethiopia-rejects-egypt-proposal-nile-dam-talks-falter/

workingclass artist on February 17, 2014 at 8:43 AM

The co-pilot couldn’t have just landed in Rome and then taken a train to Switzerland? Last I checked, Switzerland is right on the northern boundary of Italy.

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM

I thought that too. However, I seem to remember Italy and Ethiopia having some kind of relationship. Maybe he thought the Italian authorities would not allow him to leave the country.

Occams Stubble on February 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM

What an idiot. If he had hijacked the plane and landed at La Guardia, barky and the Vichy GOP would have all welcomed the hijacker and printed him up an American citizenship pronto.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 17, 2014 at 8:55 AM

I thought that too. However, I seem to remember Italy and Ethiopia having some kind of relationship. Maybe he thought the Italian authorities would not allow him to leave the country.

Occams Stubble on February 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM

Can’t imagine it’s that friendly of a relationship, given Mussolini’s actions. Guess we’ll have to wait for further details.

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 9:04 AM

The co-pilot couldn’t have just landed in Rome and then taken a train to Switzerland? Last I checked, Switzerland is right on the northern boundary of Italy.

rbj on February 17, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Perhaps the co-pilot knew about the immigration flap between the EU and non-EU member Switzerland, and figured amnesty was now the prevailing world-wide policy. But Switzerland? Must be the skiing.

Barnestormer on February 17, 2014 at 9:31 AM

Ethiopia is not a democracy

I have worked there over the last 10 years. Since the election in 2005, the government has locked things up pretty tight. Opposition party members locked up or disappeared. No real freedom of speech. Democracy on paper only.

But we have strategic interests there (e.g., drone bases to watch over Somalia; the Ethiopian Army helps against the Somali version of Al Qaida; etc.) and the US doesn’t seem to want to rock the boat.

So, if the pilot was participating in any opposition party activities, or speaking out, he would be in fear of being imprisoned.

stillaneocon on February 17, 2014 at 9:35 AM

Hijacking an airplane, even if you are the pilot, is perhaps the ultimate no-no. The Swiss should not grant him asylum, no matter what his cause to request for it.

SC.Charlie on February 17, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Hijacking an airplane, even if you are the pilot, is perhaps the ultimate no-no. The Swiss should not grant him asylum, no matter what his cause to request for it.

SC.Charlie on February 17, 2014 at 9:48 AM

Meh. According to Rubio, he was just following an undocumented flight plan. Don’t be such a h8ter!!

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on February 17, 2014 at 9:52 AM

What’s the difference in welfare freebies between Italy and Switzerland?

OldEnglish on February 17, 2014 at 8:15 AM

I dunno. But I do know the Swiss aren’t in any mood to hear about immigration, even from a pilot…

JohnGalt23 on February 17, 2014 at 9:54 AM

The real story here is not the events themselves. I found out on Twitter, listened to the air traffic control tower radio myself, and saw it through to the resolution before any media outlet ever picked up the story. All information reported and shared by amateurs. The angle here should be New vs Dinosaur Media.

joekenha on February 17, 2014 at 10:24 AM

I thought that too. However, I seem to remember Italy and Ethiopia having some kind of relationship. Maybe he thought the Italian authorities would not allow him to leave the country.

The point is why didn’t he just fly normally to Rome, and take a train to Switzerland?

And more importantly, why, instead of walking out the door to the waiting authorities, did have to open a window and shimmy down a rope?

You see a pattern here?

HugoDrax on February 17, 2014 at 10:40 AM

All I need to do is read the headline to know the police acted stupidly

Brock Robamney on February 17, 2014 at 11:30 AM

maybe he thought they said swaziland.

geesoy on February 17, 2014 at 11:43 AM

The Swiss recently voted by referendum – politicians hate it when pesky voters take control – to restrict immigration, thus going against the traditional sucker-heartedness and overall insanity of liberal Europeans. But they also need to make it clear that they don’t accept criminal asylum seekers.

BTW such Swiss self-defense sanity cannot go unpunished:

Switzerland gets first penalty for immigration vote

Chessplayer on February 17, 2014 at 1:00 PM

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.

This demonstrates pretty conclusively the absurdity of the TSA patting down the flight crew and taking away their nail clippers.

Hayabusa on February 17, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Why didn’t he fly to Norway or Sweden? They give instant citizenship to anyone from the *Dark Continent*…but only if they’re muslim.

AppraisHer on February 17, 2014 at 2:29 PM

Hmmm….so when will TSA be profiling pilots? Oh, wait, profiling is illegal.

GarandFan on February 17, 2014 at 4:11 PM

And more importantly, why, instead of walking out the door to the waiting authorities, did have to open a window and shimmy down a rope?

HugoDrax on February 17, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Because if he had opened the door from the cockpit, the crew could have subdued him and he wouldn’t have been on Swiss soil. The thinking (rightly or wrongly) is that if he’s captured on the plane, then he’s just a hijacker; if he’s caught on Swiss soil, then he’s a refugee.

The rope he used is an emergency escape device for the pilots to get out of a burning aircraft if the path to a regular exit is blocked. No real “pattern” except that he evidently desperately wanted to put his feet on Swiss soil so he could claim asylum.

This demonstrates pretty conclusively the absurdity of the TSA patting down the flight crew and taking away their nail clippers.

Hayabusa on February 17, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Sadly, the TSA will point to this and say, “See? This is why we treat the crew just like everyone else. They could have nefarious designs, too!”

GWB on February 17, 2014 at 7:11 PM

Ethiopia is not a democracy

I have worked there over the last 10 years.

stillaneocon on February 17, 2014 at 9:35 AM

HA commenters rock – so many of you have “been there – done that” and are willing to share your experiences, which gives us a perspective on events sorely lacking in the dinosaur media reports.

I seem to remember Italy and Ethiopia having some kind of relationship. Maybe he thought the Italian authorities would not allow him to leave the country.

Occams Stubble on February 17, 2014 at 8:47 AM

The only “problem” is that much of what I consider adding has already been said before I get here. However, I console myself by savoring the sweet feeling of vindication.

Here’s an interesting look at Italian-Ethiopian relations, from an odd location.
http://www.norway.org.et/News_and_events/Culture/Ethio-Italian-relations-post-Adwa-No-hard-feelings/

But then, here’s this:

Legacy of Bitterness: Ethiopia and Fascist Italy, 1935-1941 [Paperback]
Alberto Sbacchi (Author)

Bad news in Rome for the co-pilot either way.

AesopFan on February 17, 2014 at 10:25 PM