A Rome bound Ethiopian Airlines flight ET-702 has landed in Geneva Airport after the co-pilot hijacked the plane to request political asylum in Switzerland.
The plane that took off from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was reportedly denied permission to land and circled Geneva for several minutes before it was “forced to proceed” to the airport, which had been temporarily closed by authorities.
An online flight watcher reported that the plane issued a distress signal, “Squawk 7500″, which is a radio code indicating a hijacking at around 5:30 pm New Zealand time.
The Boeing 767′s bizarre flight pattern was plotted live online on flightradar24.com. The site showed the plane making multiple circles around the airport before finally landing.
While circling, the co-pilot appears to have asked an air traffic controller about asylum (audio here).
“Do you know if we’ll get the asylum in time. We need asylum or assurance that we will not be transferred to Ethiopian government.”
Ethiopian Airlines later issued a statement that the Ethiopian Air flight was “forced to proceed to Geneva Airport” but made no mention of hijacking.
“Ethiopian Airlines flight ET-702 on scheduled service departing from Addis Ababa on 17 February 2014 at 00:30 (local time) scheduled to arrive in Rome at 04:40 (local time) was forced to proceed to Geneva Airport. Accordingly, the flight has landed safely at Geneva Airport. All passengers and crew are safe at Geneva Airport.”
Geneva police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt, told the Associated Press that the plane made an unscheduled landing in the Swiss city at 6am on Monday (0500 GMT).
A spokeswoman for the Federal Office of Civil Aviation confirmed Geneva Airport had been closed.
Embarrassed by the highly unusual situation, Ethiopian authorities for the time being prefer to deny the truth and at best to blame certain imaginary hijackers whom they say might have been boarded when the plane made a scheduled stop in Sudanese capital Khartoum.
“We don’t know where they are from or how many they are but it looks like the hijacker or hijackers boarded the flight in Khartoum,” Government spokesman, Redwan Hussein said.
Shelving the authorities joke aside, it was not the first time a plane run by Ethiopian Airlines has been overtaken by asylum seekers. In 1996, an Ethiopian Air flight also leaving Addis Ababa, en route to Nairobi, was hijacked by three Ethiopian nationals hoping to seek asylum in Australia. The plane crashed in the Indian Ocean, killing 125 people, including the hijackers.
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