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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ehtiopian hijacker sentenced 'in absentia' ..

Ethiopia, the country located in the Horn of Africa is often in news for wrong reasons. With about 87.9 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world. Some of the oldest evidence for modern humans is found in Ethiopia – civilization existed thousands of years ago here. Ethiopia was the only African country to defeat a European colonial power and retain its sovereignty as an independent country. Western World has portrayed Ethiopia highlighting malnutrition and hunger  highlighting the child deaths.  

Addis Ababa  meaning “new flower”; is the capital city of Ethiopia. It is the largest city in Ethiopia.  Often the long distance running is dominated by Kenyans and Ethiopians.   

This is more about a flight – its abduction to be more precise.  Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 was a scheduled flight from Addis Ababa to Milan via Rome.  On 17th Feb 2014, the aircraft,  Boeing 767-300ER, was hijacked by the unarmed co-pilot en route from Addis Ababa to Rome, and landed at Geneva. All 202 passengers and crew were unharmed.
The flight had been scheduled to depart from Addis Ababa Bole International airport and the  aircraft's transponder began to emit squawk 7500—the international code for an aircraft hijacking—while flying north over Sudan. When the pilot exited the cockpit to use the restroom, the co-pilot locked the cockpit door and continued to fly the aircraft.  Instead of schedule to Rome, it was  flown to Geneva, Switzerland, where the copilot circled several times while communicating with air traffic control at Geneva International Airport, trying to broker political asylum for himself and an assurance that he would not be extradited to Ethiopia.  Eventually, the aircraft did land at Geneva with about 10 minutes of fuel and the flameout of one engine.

The co-pilot exited by scaling down a rope he threw out of the cockpit window and walked to police, where he was arrested.  The flight was escorted by Italian Eurofighter and French Mirage fighter jets while traversing their respective airspaces.   Now the person is convicted in absentia of hijacking his own plane and flying it to Geneva, 13 months after he surrendered to police there and sought asylum.

The high court in Addis Ababa issued its ruling recently and said it would sentence Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn. If he ever returns to his home country he could face up to 20 years in jail.  Earlier, Swiss police have said Hailemedhin asked for asylum because he did not feel safe in Ethiopia.

Opposition politicians and rights campaigners often accuse the government of stifling dissent, a charge dismissed by the government. Authorities say there have been growing numbers of people from north and east Africa travelling to Europe to flee poverty and conflicts - though Hailemedhin left behind a well-paid job on the flagship airline in one of Africa's fastest-growing economies. Ethiopian officials said at the time Addis Ababa may ask for his extradition. There were no details on his current whereabouts.

Almost two decades earlier, another Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, a Boeing 767-200ER, was hijacked on 23 November 1996, en route from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, by three Ethiopians seeking asylum in Australia.  . Over the intercom, they declared in Amharic, French and English that if anyone tried to interfere, they had a bomb and they would use it to blow up the plane. The plane crash-landed in the Indian Ocean near Grande Comore, Comoros Islands, due to fuel exhaustion; 125 of the 175 passengers and crew on board died, along with the hijackers.  The incident is one of the only documented water landing attempts of a widebody airliner with survivors.  Prior to Sept 11 incident,  it was the deadliest hijacking involving a single aircraft, and the second deadliest hijacking after the 1990 Guangzhou Baiyun airport collisions.   Some reports suggested that death of passengers could have been due to inflating their life jackets in the cabin, causing them to be trapped by rising water which led to future notices about not inflating the vests before exiting the plane !!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

18th Mar 2015.

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