GENEVA — A co-pilot who allegedly hijacked an Ethiopian Airlines flight to seek asylum in Switzerland surrendered Monday to police at an airport in Geneva after jumping out of a cockpit window and scrambling down an emergency rope.
The airliner’s second-in-command, named by Ethiopian authorities as Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, 31, took control of the plane when the pilot left the cockpit to use the toilet. He then sent a coded signal announcing he had hijacked the aircraft.
With the airliner on the tarmac, an unarmed Hailemedhin made his exit via a cockpit window, without harming passengers or crew members, police spokesman Pierre Grangean said during a news conference.
“Just after landing, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit and ran to the police and said, ‘I’m the hijacker.’ He said he is not safe in his own country and wants asylum,” Grangean said.
The airliner could later be seen with a knotted yellow rope dangling from a cockpit window.
The opposition and rights campaigners in Ethiopia accuse the government of stifling dissent and torturing political detainees. But it is rare for state officials and employees — Ethiopian Airlines is run by the state — to seek asylum. The last senior official to do so fled to the United States in 2009.
Ethiopian authorities said Hailemedhin had worked for Ethiopian Airlines for the past five years and had no criminal record.
“So far it was known that he was medically sane, until otherwise he is proven through the investigation, which is going on right now,” Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the Ethiopian government, said at a news conference.
He said Ethiopia may ask for Hailemedhin’s extradition.
Redwan said that among the 193 passengers on board the Boeing aircraft were 139 Italians, 11 American and four French nationals.
Flight ET702 departed Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, on Sunday evening and was bound for Rome. The plane was hijacked while over northern Italy, Grangean said. It landed at Geneva at 6:02 a.m.
He said the co-pilot, an Ethiopian born in 1983, locked the flight deck door when the pilot went to the toilet. He then asked to refuel at Geneva, landed the plane, climbed down an emergency exit rope from a cockpit window, and gave himself up.
Robert Deillon, chief executive of the airport, said air traffic controllers learned that the plane had been hijacked when the co-pilot keyed a distress code into the aircraft’s transponder.