A hijacked Ethiopian Airlines jet landed safely in Geneva after the copilot allegedly seized control of the aircraft and requested asylum in Switzerland, according to multiple news reports.
Citing police, Reuters says the co-pilot locked himself in the flight deck of the Boeing 767-300 while the pilot was in the bathroom. When the plane landed, he climbed out through the cockpit window and down a rope, and then surrendered to police.
He was unarmed.
All 193 passengers have been reported safe and were seen leaving the aircraft with their hands on their necks before boarding a bus.
Flight 702 had been en route to Rome from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, when it sent out transponder code 7500, which is supposed to indicate a hijacking, according to AirlineReporter.com, a website of self-described "aviation geeks."
The plane had been flying over Sudan when it sent out the signal. It reached Geneva with just 20 minutes of fuel left, circling the airport several times before landing, AirlineReporter noted, citing information from air traffic controllers heard on LiveATC.net.
The incident briefly shut down the busy airport and caused the cancelation of some flights as incoming aircraft were diverted to other airports.
"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," the airline said in a statement.
The airline did not say whether the plane had been hijacked nor did it offer a reason for the diversion.
"Accordingly, the flight has landed safely at Geneva Airport. All passengers and crew are safe at Geneva Airport. Ethiopian Airlines is making immediate arrangements to fly its esteemed customers on-board the flight to their intended destinations."
FROM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:
GENEVA (AP) — An Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked a plane bound for Rome on Monday and flew it to Geneva, where he wanted to seek asylum, officials said.
The Boeing 767-300 plane with 202 passengers and crew aboard had taken off from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and landed in the Swiss city at about 6 a.m. (0500 GMT). Officials said no one on the flight was injured.
Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters that the co-pilot, an Ethiopian man born in 1983, took control of the plane when the pilot ventured outside the cockpit.
"The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit," Deillon said.
The man "wanted asylum in Switzerland," he said. "That's the motivation of the hijacking."
The hijacking began over Italy, Switzerland's southern neighbor, and two Italian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane, according to Deillon.
Passengers on the plane were unaware it had been hijacked, officials said.
A few minutes after landing in Geneva, the co-pilot exited the cockpit using a rope, "then he went to the police forces who were on the ground close to the aircraft," Geneva police spokesman Eric Grandjean said. "He announced that he was himself the hijacker."
It was not immediately clear why the co-pilot, whose name wasn't released, wanted asylum.
Police escorted passengers one by one, their hands over their heads, from the taxied plane to waiting vehicles.
Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said Swiss federal authorities were investigating the hijacking and would press charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Geneva airport was initially closed to other flights, but operations resumed around two hours after the hijacked plane landed. "We hope everything will return to normal in the afternoon," Deillon said.
Ethiopian Airlines is owned by Ethiopia's government, which has faced persistent criticism over its rights record and alleged intolerance for political dissent.
Human Rights Watch says Ethiopia's human rights record "has sharply deteriorated" over the years. The rights group says authorities severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
The government has been accused of targeting journalists, opposition members, as well as the country's minority Muslim community.