Ethiopian Airlines first officer arrested after hijacking a flight

Hailemedhin Aberra

Hailemedhin Aberra

An Ethiopian Airlines first officer identified as Hailemedhin Aberra was arrested on Monday (Feb 17) morning at the Geneva international airport after hijacking a flight that was heading to Rome from the airline hub in Addis Ababa.  The hijacking started when the co-pilot took control of flight by locking himself in the cockpit after the captain left for a restroom break. Hailemedhin then directed the plane to Switzerland flanked by fighter jets from the Italian and French air force and safely landed in Geneva international airport after circling around until he was granted permission to land. All the 193 passengers and 9 crew members on board the Ethiopian flight ET702 were safe after the incident. People on board the flight reported that the officer warned people to sit down and use an already deployed oxygen mask. The plane went through turbulent movements probably to discourage the rest of the crew from trying to open the cockpit door which is designed to be impenetrable especially after the September 11 attack on the US. Passengers were not aware of the hijacking and associated the turbulence with technical problems on the flight. Once the plane stabilised and landed in Geneve most passengers thought they arrived in Rome before they were informed about the incident and that police will search the plane.

Hailemedhin was in contact with air traffic controllers  and send stress signals notifying them of the hijack. The officer also forwarded his asylum request while on the air and demanded assurances that he will not be transferred to the Ethiopian government. In a bizarre end  to the incident, after the plane landed, Hailemedhin exited the plane via the cockpit window using a rope and turned himself to the Swiss police by identifying himself as the hijacker. He disclosed the motive for his actions were fear of prosecution in Ethiopia.

People on social media platforms of Twitter and facebook shared lots of trending information about the incident while the airline declined to give updates on the incident with a brief press release stating that the plane was forced to proceed to Geneva. A woman identifying herself as sister of the first officer stated on facebook that her brother was worried that people are watching and spying on him. She stressed her brother is good-hearted and suggested that a mental disorder that resulted him to be isolated from family and friends might be the reason for his actions. [Image: facebook]

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