UK & World News

  • 18 February 2014, 20:33

Hijack Pilot 'Distraught' Over Uncle's Death

A Ethiopian pilot who seized control of his own plane and flew it to Geneva had been distraught at the death of an uncle, according to family.

AlemuAsmamaw, another uncle of HailemedhinAbera, said that he feared the death had "put a strain" on the 31-year-old's life.

He did not say how Emiru Seyoumdied, but an obituary on the Addis Ababa University websitesaid he had died suddenly died while travelling to work on January 1.

Hailemedhinlocked the other pilot out of the cockpit during the flight, which was supposed to be carrying 202 passengers and crew to Rome.

He took the plane toSwtizerland where, after climbing down a rope from the cockpit's window, he requested asylum.

"We thought the co-pilot had gone mad," Francesco Cuomo, a 25-year-old development economist who was on board, was quoted by Italian media as saying.

"The captain was threatening to open the cockpit door and tried to break it down without success. That's when we understood that something serious was going on.

"When we started circling over Geneva, there were moments of pure fear."

After landing in Rome from Geneva, another passenger, Diego Gardelli, told the ANSA news agency: "At one point a stewardess told us 'Are you Christian? Then pray to God. That's what I'm doing'."

Geneva prosecutor OlivierJornotsaid the co-pilot, who has worked for Ethiopian Airlines for five years, would be charged with taking hostages, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Husseinsaid they would be seeking the extradition of the co-pilot, who had no prior criminal record.

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