GENEVA, Switzerland, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- An Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked an aircraft headed for Italy, and diverted it to Geneva, Switzerland Monday, where he asked for political asylum.
According to the airline, 202 passengers and crew were safe and the co-pilot was unarmed. The co-pilot was able to lock the captain out of the cockpit when he went to the restroom and take control of the plane. He diverted it and changed course to Switzerland.
“Technically there is no connection between asylum and the fact he committed a crime to come here,” said Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot. “But I think his chances are not very high.”
On landing the plane the man, identified as Hailemedhin Abera, a 31-year-old Ethiopian man who had worked for the airline for five years, climbed out of the cockpit using a rope, before giving himself up to the police. The airport, which had to be closed during the incident, has been reopened. Reports suggest that the co-pilot was not a threat to any of the passengers and crew, and the situation abroad was calm.
After hijacking flight 702, the man himself alerted the authorities about the hijacking, while the passengers were unaware of the situation. According to Swiss authorities, the only crime that he can be convicted for is hijacking, for which he could face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
The hijacking took place over Italy, and after Italian authorities were alerted, two fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane. A lot of the passengers were traveling to Rome and Milan and after clearance from the authorities were put on buses or alternate flights.