Ethiopian airlines co-pilot hijacks plane to Geneva in asylum bid.

Ethiopian Airlines Co-Pilot Hijacks Plane When Pilot Goes to the Bathroom

Ethiopian Airlines Co-Pilot Hijacks Plane When Pilot Goes to the Bathroom

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Feb. 17 2014 11:53 AM

Ethiopian Airlines Co-Pilot Hijacks Plane When Pilot Goes to the Bathroom

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Police evacuate passengers from the Ethiopian Airlines flight that was hijacked and forced to land in Geneva

Photo by Richard Juilliart/AFP/Getty Images

When the Ethiopian Airlines pilot on an Addis Ababa-Rome flight went to the bathroom, his second-in-command decided to take charge of the plane. He locked his colleague out of the cockpit and hijacked the flight to Geneva in an apparent attempt to seek asylum in Switzerland. The Ethiopian co-pilot was in his early 30s and apparently worked for the state-owned airline for more than five years. It is still unclear why he wanted asylum but he wasn’t armed and no one was hurt. That marks quite the welcome change from the last time an Ethiopian Airlines flight was hijacked in 1996, when 125 people died after the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Even though no one was hurt, the co-pilot’s chances of getting asylum are extremely slim. In fact, he’s much more likely to get jail time. A Geneva prosecutor tells the Associated Press he could face up to 20 years behind bars for taking hostages. But he may still get a chance to stay in Switzerland considering the country has a policy of not extraditing those who could face the death penalty in their home countries.  

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Even though human rights activists regularly accuse the Ethiopian government of torturing political detainees “it is rare for government officials and employees … to seek asylum,” reports Reuters, noting that the last senior official to do so went to the United States in 2009. While very rare, it’s not unheard of for a pilot to hijack a plane, notes CNN. In 1998 an Air China captain hijacked a passenger plane to Taiwan.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.