* Co-pilot lands in Geneva, jumps down rope, demands asylum
* Commandeered aircraft while pilot was in toilet
* Ethiopian Airlines plane had been bound for Rome
* Passengers, crew all unharmed
By Tom Miles and Aaron Maasho
GENEVA/ ADDIS ABABA, Feb 17 A co-pilot who
hijacked an Ethiopian Airlines flight to seek asylum in
Switzerland on Monday surrendered to police at Geneva airport
after jumping out of a cockpit window and scrambling down an
The airliner's second-in-command, named by Ethiopia 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 his own aircraft.
With the airliner on the tarmac, an unarmed Hailemedhin made
his exit via a cockpit window, without harming passengers or
crew, police spokesman Pierre Grangean told 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 an open 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.
Ethiopia 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, told a news conference.
Redwan said Ethiopia may ask for his extradition.
Ethiopian Airlines pilots had visas to travel freely to
Europe, he said, adding that it made no sense to hijack one's
own plane given "that the anti-hijacking law in any country is
severe" and can lead to up to 20 years in prison.
Redwan said among the 193 passengers on board the Boeing
aircraft were 139 Italians, 11 American and four French
Flight ET702 departed the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on
Sunday evening and was bound for Rome. The plane was hijacked at
about 0330 GMT while over northern Italy, Grangean said. It
landed at Geneva at 6:02 a.m. (0502 GMT).
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 on an
emergency exit rope from a cockpit window, and gave himself up.
Robert Deillon, CEO of Geneva airport, said air traffic
controllers learnt the plane had been hijacked when the co-pilot
keyed a distress code into the aircraft's transponder,
"There is ... a code for hijack. So this co-pilot put in the
code for 'I just hijacked the aircraft'," he said. As the plane
was over Italy at the time, two Italian Eurofighters were
scrambled to accompany it, he said.
The brief drama in Geneva on Monday morning caused the
cancellation of some short-haul flights and some incoming
flights were diverted to other airports. Hundreds of passengers
booked on disrupted flights sought to change their tickets.
In an apparent recording of a radio communication between
the Ethiopian plane and air traffic control posted on social
media site Twitter, a demand for asylum was made.
"We need asylum or assurance we will not be transferred to
the Ethiopian government," the voice in the recording,
apparently the co-pilot, said.
Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of
Ethiopian nationals and the country's flag carrier have been
involved in several hijackings in the past. At least 50 people
were killed when a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet
crashed in the Indian Ocean in 1996.