Where: Geneva, Switzerland
Prior to midnight EST, an Ethiopian Airlines flight bound from Ethiopia to Italy declared and emergency—a hijacking—and flew instead to Geneva, Switzerland.
The aircraft is now safely on the ground in Geneva, although reports of safety of the passengers and crew and details of the hijackers have not been released.
Here is what we know right now:
· Ethiopian Airlines flight 702, a Boeing 767-300 (tail ET-AMF) traveling from Addis Ababa to Milan-Malpensa (with a scheduled stop at Rome-Fiumicino), changed its transponder to squawk 7500. This indicates a hijacking. At the time, the plane was flying north over the Sudan. It did not land in Rome nor in Milan, and instead proceeded toward Geneva, Switzerland.
· The pilots of flight 702 communicated with Geneva Airport air traffic control to inquire about possibility of hijackers receiving asylum in Switzerland. Further details of the hijackers are not known.
· There was back-and-forth between Geneva Airport, Swiss authorities, the pilots, and hijackers as asylum was negotiated while the aircraft flew on dwindling fuel over Lake Geneva. The difficulty comes in the time this all occurred: 6am on a Monday morning in Geneva, an hour when there’s little likelihood for those with decision power to be at their desks.
Above: the hijacked aircraft (ET-AMF) appears red on flight tracking, due to its hijacking emergency, as it flies over Lake Geneva)
· With about 10 minutes of fuel remaining and one engine out, flight 702 safely landed on the single runway at Geneva Airport around 6:00am local time. ATC directed the aircraft to taxi to the end of the runway and stop. Friend of Jaunted and aviation authority @thatjohn believes he heard the pilots “telling ATC they will be coming out of the window.”
· ATC went silent for several minutes before stating: “situation in progress and I have no idea when it will end. For the time, Geneva Airport is closed.” Requests from other aircraft en route were denied, and they were informed that the airport is currently closed.
· Geneva Airpot’s Tower ATC noted at 6:30am that they’re hoping to re-open the airport at 7am local time, but the aircraft with the situation is still sitting on the tarmac and he is not sure of more details. Other aircraft bound for GVA are being rerouted to airports like MXP (Milan-Malpensa) and ZRH (Zurich).
Above: the flight path of Ethiopian 702, as tracked by FlightRadar24 after entering European airspace. Notice it bypasses Rome and Milan for a focused course to Geneva.
· A (now deleted) press release from Ethiopian Airlines stated that “all passengers and crew are safe.”
· The last time an Ethiopian Airlines plane was hijacked, it was 1996. That flight, 961 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, crashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel. The water landing killed 125 of the 175 onboard. The hijackers were asylum-seekers directing the plane to fly to Australia, and they were among the fatalities.
· At 7:12am local time, a flight crew (could be ET 702 or another flight arrived around the same time) contacted Geneva Tower to say: “We will disembark our passengers within the next 5 minutes and we will call you back.”
· 7:40am local time, Geneva Airport authorities announce “situation is under control,” passengers and crew are safe with no fatalities, suspect (note the singular) arrested, and a full press conference will occur at 9am local time. Unconfirmed report that a member of the flight crew is under questioning. Source: Bertrand Stämpfli, spokesman for Geneva Airport, in a statement to theGeneva Tribune newspaper.
Above: first daylight photo of the Ethiopian 767 on the tarmac at Geneva Airport, with buses to unload passengers. Photo via @AFracheboud
· With the exception of flights diverted to land at other airports, operations at Geneva are quickly getting back to normal as of 8:30am local time. Delays and likely cancellations may result, soplease check your flight status if you are flying into/out of any European airport today.
[Images: Flightradar24 screenshots, @AFracheboud]