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Associated Press
Police stand on the stairs after passengers were evacuated from a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Plane on the airport in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

Ethiopian plane hijacked to Geneva by co-pilot

Associated Press
Police stand around the aircraft after passengers were evacuated from a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines Plane on the airport in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Keystone, Salvatore Di Nolfi)

– An Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked a plane bound for Rome on Monday and flew it to Geneva, where he wanted to seek asylum, officials said.

The Boeing 767-300 plane with 202 passengers and crew aboard had taken off from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and landed in the Swiss city at about 6 a.m. (0500 GMT). Officials said no one on the flight was injured.

Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters that the co-pilot, an Ethiopian man born in 1983, took control of the plane when the pilot ventured outside the cockpit.

"The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit," Deillon said.

The man "wanted asylum in Switzerland," he said. "That's the motivation of the hijacking."

The hijacking began over Italy, Switzerland's southern neighbor, and two Italian fighter jets were scrambled to accompany the plane, Deillon said.

The co-pilot himself alerted authorities to the plane's hijacking, officials added – though passengers on the plane were unaware it had been hijacked. After landing in Geneva, the co-pilot exited the cockpit using a rope and turned himself in to authorities.

Police escorted passengers one by one, their hands over their heads, from the taxied plane to waiting vehicles.

Geneva prosecutor Olivier Jornot said Swiss federal authorities were investigating the hijacking and would press charges that could carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Geneva airport was initially closed to other flights, but operations resumed around two hours after the hijacked plane landed. "We hope everything will return to normal in the afternoon," Deillon said.

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Frank Jordans and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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