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BREAKING: Ethiopian Plane Hijacked, Flown to Switzerland for Asylum

February 17, 2014 at 12:23 AM | by | ()

BREAKING NEWS. Scroll to bottom for latest updates.

Prior to midnight EST, an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound from Ethiopia to Italy declared an emergency—a hijacking—and flew instead to Geneva, Switzerland.

The aircraft landed safely in Geneva and there are no injuries or fatalities.

Here is what we know, owing to direct sources (live ATC conversations, live flight tracking, on-the-ground contacts at Geneva Airport):

· Ethiopian Airlines flight 702, a Boeing 767-300 (tail ET-AMF) traveling from Addis Ababa to Milan-Malpensa (with a scheduled stop at Rome-Fiumicino), changed its transponder to squawk 7500. This indicates a hijacking. At the time, the plane was flying north over the Sudan. It did not land in Rome nor in Milan, and instead proceeded toward Geneva, Switzerland.

· The pilots of flight 702 communicated with Geneva Airport air traffic control to inquire about possibility of hijackers receiving asylum in Switzerland. Further details of the hijackers are not known.

· There was back-and-forth between Geneva Airport, Swiss authorities, the pilots, and hijackers as asylum was negotiated while the aircraft flew on dwindling fuel over Lake Geneva. The difficulty comes in the time this all occurred: 6am on a Monday morning in Geneva, an hour when there's little likelihood for those with decision power to be at their desks.

· Two Eurofighter Typhoons eventually joined the hijacked flight in the sky, to escort it on its course to Geneva. [Source: Robert Wall, reporter, Bloomberg News]

Above: the hijacked aircraft (ET-AMF) appears red on flight tracking, due to its hijacking emergency, as it flies over Lake Geneva)

· With about 10 minutes of fuel remaining and one engine out, flight 702 safely landed on the single runway at Geneva Airport around 6:00am local time. ATC directed the aircraft to taxi to the end of the runway and stop. Friend of Jaunted and aviation authority @thatjohn believes he heard the pilots "telling ATC they will be coming out of the window."

· ATC went silent for several minutes before stating: "situation in progress and I have no idea when it will end. For the time, Geneva Airport is closed." Requests from other aircraft en route were denied, and they were informed that the airport is currently closed.

· Geneva Airpot's Tower ATC noted at 6:30am that they're hoping to re-open the airport at 7am local time, but the aircraft with the situation is still sitting on the tarmac and he is not sure of more details. Other aircraft bound for GVA are being rerouted to airports like MXP (Milan-Malpensa) and ZRH (Zurich).

Above: the flight path of Ethiopian 702, as tracked by FlightRadar24 after entering European airspace. Notice it bypasses Rome and Milan for a focused course to Geneva.

· A (now deleted) press release from Ethiopian Airlines stated that "all passengers and crew are safe."

· The last time an Ethiopian Airlines plane was hijacked, it was 1996. That flight, 961 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, crashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel. The water landing killed 125 of the 175 onboard. The hijackers were asylum-seekers directing the plane to fly to Australia, and they were among the fatalities.

· At 7:12am local time, a flight crew (could be ET 702 or another flight arrived around the same time) contacted Geneva Tower to say: "We will disembark our passengers within the next 5 minutes and we will call you back."

· 7:40am local time, Geneva Airport authorities announce "situation is under control," passengers and crew are safe with no fatalities, suspect (note the singular) arrested, and a full press conference will occur at 9am local time. Unconfirmed report that a member of the flight crew is under questioning. Source: Bertrand Stämpfli, spokesman for Geneva Airport, in a statement to the Geneva Tribune newspaper.

Above: first daylight photo of the Ethiopian 767 on the tarmac at Geneva Airport, with buses to unload passengers. Photo via @AFracheboud

· SKY News reporter Harriet Hadfield is at the Geneva Airport fence, with a clear view to the plane as passengers disembark:

· A closer look at the plane, as passengers disembark:

· With the exception of flights diverted to land at other airports, operations at Geneva are quickly getting back to normal as of 8:30am local time. Delays and likely cancellations may result, so please check your flight status if you are flying into/out of any European airport today.

· United 1k frequent flyer @HuntMayo is in the Swiss departure lounge at Geneva Airport. His flight status is in limbo, as the inbound United aircraft ended up diverting to Milan. He tweets the departures board, which doesn't yet reflect some delays and cancellations as info is slow to spread:

· Geneva Airport resumed normal operations at 8:45am local time. Expect more updates later in the European day, as the rest of the continent awakens and authorities begin the investigation.

· The AP, reporting from the Geneva Airport authority press conference, states that the hijacker was the aircraft's co-pilot (born in 1983), who locked himself in the cockpit while the pilot was using the restroom. His intent was to land in Geneva and seek asylum, but the best he'll get is a hefty jail sentence.

· The co-pilot, arrested by police at the airport, did make use of the cockpit window emergency exit after landing.

· In what is perhaps the happiest note in this whole situation, Swiss efficiency has managed to rescue Jaunted reader @HuntMayo (mentioned earlier) after the aircraft for his flight diverted to Milan. He departed Geneva for the US with only a slight delay.

· No surprise here, but @airlineroute reports that Ethiopian Airlines has cancelled flight 702 scheduled for February 18.

[Images: Flightradar24 screenshots, @AFracheboud]

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