First Officer Hijacks Ethiopian 767, Swiss Air Force Stays Home (Updated)
An Ethiopian Airlines 767-300 en route to Rome landed in Geneva instead on Monday morning, after the first officer reportedly locked the captain out of the cockpit and hijacked the flight. The airplane, with 202 on board, was in Italian airspace when the captain left the cockpit to use the restroom, according to The New York Times. The first officer then locked the cockpit door and activated a transponder hijack code. Italian fighter jets were scrambled, and they escorted the 767 out of Italian airspace. The airplane landed in Geneva at 6:02 a.m., and the first officer taxied off the runway, opened a cockpit window, and exited via a rope. He was unarmed, and told security officers he was in danger in Ethiopia and asked for asylum, according to the Times. He was immediately arrested but he wasn't in any danger of being shot down, at least by the Swiss Air Force.
The Air Force certainly has the firepower to take out the airliner but it's pilots and support crews likely hadn't had their morning coffee while the drama unfolded. Swiss officials confirmed later on Monday that it had not scrambled any of its F-5 or F/A-18 fighters because the Air Force, due to budget considerations, only works regular business hours. That includes a 90-minute lunch in the the middle of the Monday-Friday 8:30-5 schedule. It asks the French to look after its airspace in the other 15.5 hours but they're not authorized to shoot anything down over Swiss territory. Meanwhile, the passengers were unaware of any problem on Monday morning until they landed in Geneva and police boarded the Boeing, ordering them all to put their hands on their heads. "Everybody was safe from beginning to end, no problem," a police spokesman said. The first officer could be charged with hostage-taking, which could send him to prison for up to 20 years, according to the BBC.