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Ethiopian Airline pilot gets 19 years for hijacking plane

By AFP | March 20th 2015

An Ethiopian Airlines pilot who last year hijacked a plane to seek asylum in Switzerland was on Friday jailed in absentia for 19 years by a court in Ethiopia.

The pilot, 32-year-old Ethiopian Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, is currently awaiting trial in Switzerland.

Tagegn was second-in-command on the flight that was carrying 202 passengers from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to Rome.

He locked himself in the cockpit when the captain went to the bathroom and diverted the plane to Geneva.

"The defendant has committed a serious crime," Ethiopian Federal High Court judge Yosef Kiros said in his ruling.

"This case could be punished by up to 21 years in jail. However, based on the past of the defendant and the fact he has no criminal record, we agreed on 19 years and six months in prison," he said.

"This will be implemented from the first day the defendant is apprehended," the judge ruled.

Tagegn, who had been working for Ethiopia's booming flag carrier for five years, was unarmed when he took control of the flight.

The plane landed safely in Geneva, escorted by Italian and French fighters.

Once on the ground, Tagegn turned off the engines, used a rope to reach the tarmac from the cockpit window and identified himself to Swiss authorities

He said he was seeking asylum since he "felt threatened" in his country.

Swiss authorities in May rejected an Ethiopian request for Tagegn's extradition, saying he would be tried in Switzerland.

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