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Hijacked flight lands in Geneva
February 16, 2014 10:20 PM   Subscribe

At 5:00pm Pacific Time, Ethiopian Flight 702, a Boeing 767-300 (registered ET-AMF) was flying over Sudan when it started squawking 7500. The transponder code, is supposed to indicate a “hijacking.” With less than 25 minutes of fuel remaining, it landed safely in Geneva.

Ethiopian flight 702, service from Addis Ababa to Rome, was forced to land in Geneva. The hijackers are believed to be demanding asylum.

Though the general media has been slow to pick up the story, aviation expert John Walton has been tweeting with live updates and the Aviation subreddit has compiled a detailed timeline.
posted by troika (69 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here is ET702's flight path. One thing of note, Geneva airport is right on the border between France and Switzerland.
posted by troika at 10:22 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


A Swiss news site reports that the pilot has been arrested. link
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:36 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


The BBC is quoting another Swiss news site saying a high jacker was arrested.
posted by birdherder at 10:41 PM on February 16


Wow I never thought those flight tracker sites were real time. I thought they were just being clever with publicly available departure times, ETA and flight routes. Such precision seems like something security agencies would be weird about.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:51 PM on February 16


Wow I never thought those flight tracker sites were real time. I thought they were just being clever with publicly available departure times, ETA and flight routes. Such precision seems like something security agencies would be weird about.

Aside from transponders, pilots broadcast their location over the radio when they're talking to the tower and other planes, and they file flight plans and stuff, apparently.

So blocking the publication of location data on flight tracker sites would probably be a bit silly.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:10 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


2bucksplus: It's also a benefit to have everything in the sky know where everything else is. For that, open is best.
posted by jaduncan at 11:11 PM on February 16 [11 favorites]


Wow I never thought those flight tracker sites were real time.

Building a receiver for aircraft tracking transponders is a cheap, simple hobbyist project.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:19 PM on February 16 [7 favorites]


Wow I never thought those flight tracker sites were real time.

FAA rules delay the data by roughly 10 minutes, everywhere else is fairly quick. But the data is real, confirmed for me when the 747 landed at the small airport in Wichita. Flight tracker followed its 10 minute flight.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:20 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


I thought that post-9/11 we'd never see another hijacking. Not one where everyone walks away alive.

From the Reddit link, it was a lot less than 25 minutes remaining:

04:44Z: Aircraft is back on Geneva Approach.
04:45Z: 20 minutes of fuel remaining.
04:50Z: One engine has flamed out.
04:51Z: Geneva Appr: "I know you will not land without a response, but can I give you vectors for the ILS?"
04:53Z: ATC: "Turn right 230 for downwind."
04:54Z: ATC: "We are still working on a response."
04:54Z: ATC: "Turn right 320 for base."
04:54Z: E001: "We will not land with out a positive response."
04:56Z: ATC: "We have someone on the phone and will give you a response on short final. Descend to 4000, capture the glideslope."
04:58Z: ATC suggesting a 360 because he does not have a response yet. ETH702 wants to continue.
04:59Z: ATC: "Runway 05, cleared to land"
05:00Z: 001: "We will be stopping on the runway"
05:02Z: ATC: "Can you taxi to the end of the runway?"
05:02Z: ATC: "ET702 is on the ground."


So, on landing there were approximately three minutes of fuel remaining with one engine flamed out from fuel starvation. That's like something out of an action movie.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:32 PM on February 16 [11 favorites]


Avoidance apron
posted by thelonius at 11:34 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Excellent news that no one was hurt. I hope for more information. It is a fascinating part of our world that private individuals can communicate about world events as they happen; we've become much more aware of the need to do that since 9/11, I think.

troika, this flight tracker is a revelation to me and I thank you for it. The patterns of flight are interesting; I didn't know so many flights occurred in this country at night.
posted by Anitanola at 12:39 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I know 70's retro is a thing but come on!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:54 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


I thought that post-9/11 we'd never see another hijacking. Not one where everyone walks away alive.

We likely won't see one of a major American airliner flying over the United States, no. That's not what happened here though.
posted by Justinian at 1:10 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


So it was the co-pilot who hijacked the plane? I guess reinforcing those cockpit doors didn't help this time.
posted by chavenet at 1:11 AM on February 17


I thought that post-9/11 we'd never see another hijacking.

You possibly won't in America. But elsewhere, sure. Hijackings didn't stop after 9/11. There have been several since 2001. Several countries still have poor security because securing a plane is hard to do, and even then if the pilot is a participant in the hijacking there is very little that can be done.

9/11 worked because it was against the grain and also because hijackings of domestic flights in developed countries are uncommon. It was also rare, although not unheard of, to use the plane as a weapon: an attempt was made to fly a plane into the White House more than 25 years ago, and there have been a small number of other airplane-as-weapon attempts.

Hijacking was and is either a method of holding hostages or a method of getting somewhere you aren't allowed to go. Hijackers nearly always wanted publicity and then to land somewhere amenable.

Also: there is precedence of Ethiopian hijackers forcing a plane to run out of fuel although in the earlier case it is believed to have been intentional: in 1996 a hijacked Ethiopian airline crashed in the Indian Ocean through lack of fuel. There is footage of it online. It's horrible to watch.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:15 AM on February 17


Why couldn't the copilot simply followed the original plan then traveled to Geneva himself? If he wasn't a wanted man I don't understand what would have made this the better option. If he was a wanted man then why was he in the cockpit?
posted by drowsy at 4:33 AM on February 17


Seems like this has been the 11th hijacking attempt since 9/11. One of the hijackers was an advisor to the Kazakhstan delegation to UNESCO.
posted by the cydonian at 4:35 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


You possibly won't in America. But elsewhere, sure. Hijackings didn't stop after 9/11. There have been several since 2001. Several countries still have poor security because securing a plane is hard to do, and even then if the pilot is a participant in the hijacking there is very little that can be done.

9/11 worked because it was against the grain and also because hijackings of domestic flights in developed countries are uncommon. It was also rare, although not unheard of, to use the plane as a weapon: an attempt was made to fly a plane into the White House more than 25 years ago, and there have been a small number of other airplane-as-weapon attempts.


Absent a handy rural airport, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if a pilot-hijacked aircraft in US airspace was shot down.
posted by jaduncan at 4:40 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


In the Swiss news here there is an article (link: German sorry) saying the plane was accompanied by Italian and French fighter jets into Swiss airspace. Apparently the air traffic is monitored in Switzerland (the Swiss airforce were alerted at 4:30am) but no one is on standby to scramble if there's an emergency. I suspect that will soon change.

Another article says the co-pilot has no change of getting asylum, basically saying he shouldn't after a stunt like that.
posted by tracicle at 5:32 AM on February 17


I know 70's retro is a thing but come on!

The headlines about this really were a blast from the past. I'm glad this ended happily -- the low fuel situation is scary.

I've wondered for some time if the US did shoot down a hijacked airplane if they would announce that, or just say it was hijacked and crashed to minimize the controversy.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:46 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]



I thought that post-9/11 we'd never see another hijacking.


The PILOT hijacked the plane. No cure for that.

Glad everyone is safe on the ground, I'll be interested in hearing more about this, as what is the difference between Rome and Switzerland, and what would keep the pilot from taking a train there, if he really wanted to go.

There's a much more interesting story behind the interesting story.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:54 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


That's the confusing thing: one's chances of obtaining asylum, it seems self-evident, are going to be significantly reduced if one has hijacked an airplane. Why not land in Europe and attempt to claim asylum in Rome, or just... go on the run? Life as an undocumented immigrant in Italy may not be great, but if the alternative is so bad that hijacking a plane starts to look like an option...

I just don't get it. There was a spate of hijackings of Ethiopian planes in the 90s by desperate people seeking political asylum or a new life, culminating in the crash of Flight 961, but a copilot should be aware that this is not something that actually works, absent a political dispute between the countries.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:57 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Building a receiver for aircraft tracking transponders is a cheap, simple hobbyist project

You can do some similar stuff by decoding ACARS traffic. At most you need a scanner with a decent antenna. Download some software, patch your radio to your PC's audio input and you're off to the races. You probably won't hear the ground-to-air stuff unless you're near an airport, but if you've got commercial aircraft passing by, you'll pick up the messages they're sending down.

The hard core aviation/plane-spotting enthusiasts run this stuff round-the-clock and collect tail numbers and whatnot. I'd run it over a weekend or two just to see. Plotting the aircraft in near real-time on a map was sort of cool (this was circa 1995), but in general the message traffic is sort of dull. Gate assignments, in-flight telemetry (speed, position), the occasional weather report, and HERE ARE THE FINAL BASEBALL SCORES
posted by jquinby at 5:59 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Happens more often than you think. This one happened on the opening day of the Sochi Olympics.
posted by arcticseal at 6:15 AM on February 17


So, wait, the pilot/hijacker was the one who squacked the 7500 signal?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:17 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


The PILOT hijacked the plane. No cure for that.

Sooner or later, they'll get rid of human pilots. And sometime after that, we'll get the equivalent of the Syrian Electronic Army remotely hijacking planes. Won't that be fun?
posted by acb at 6:27 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Re: the 7500, might it be that with the possession of cell phones and laptops he figured it would benefit him to advertise the facts first?
posted by mr. digits at 6:28 AM on February 17


My girlfriend and I have an Ethiopian Airways flight from Addis Ababa to Rome coming up this year. Can't wait for her super neurotic mother to read this story!
posted by gman at 7:01 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


We must improve airline safety by eliminating copilots. This has happened 2 times now - EgyptAir, and now this. The shoe bomber only happened once, and I still have to remove my clodhoppers.
posted by thelonius at 7:10 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


All supposition. of course, but maybe he didn't want to ask for asylum in Rome because Ethiopia and Italy don't have the best historical relations. And the difference between the reported remaining fuel and what the transcription said: maybe he was exaggerating to ATC that the fuel was on fumes to ensure permission to land.
posted by thecjm at 7:21 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


So, wait, the pilot/hijacker was the one who squacked the 7500 signal?

Curious about this too. Is there a secret way for the crew to activate a transponder signal from outside the cockpit? If not, I'm guessing there will be one soon...
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:31 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


It would be strange if you couldn't trigger the alarm that indicates someone has seized control of the cockpit from outside of the cockpit.
posted by zamboni at 7:33 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


This story is stating the co-pilot squawked the 7500 code himself.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:45 AM on February 17


From JoeZydeco's article: “The pilot went to the toilet and he (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit,” Deillon said.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:49 AM on February 17


You can't eliminate co-pilots, and self-flying planes aren't coming any time soon. The solution is to have two isolated, armoured cockpits, and ground control able to disable or take over the controls in both cockpits remotely. Pilot and copilot don't leave them for the duration of the flight.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 8:01 AM on February 17


thecjm, your supposing about the Italian/Ethiopian relations might be right, but why Switzerland? From Italy it seems this co-pilot could have wandered off to anywhere in Europe, being EU and all. Meanwhile, Switzerland seems less than friendly to everyone these days. Might there be a point to picking the non-EU country?
posted by dabitch at 8:02 AM on February 17


The solution is to have two isolated, armoured cockpits, and ground control able to disable or take over the controls in both cockpits remotely. Pilot and copilot don't leave them for the duration of the flight.
Although this solution would solve this problem, it would create a whole lot more problems. One of the main reasons that planes have two or more pilots is so that they can double check on each other.
posted by Lame_username at 8:11 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


GallonOfAlan: You can't eliminate co-pilots, and self-flying planes aren't coming any time soon. The solution is to have two isolated, armoured cockpits, and ground control able to disable or take over the controls in both cockpits remotely. Pilot and copilot don't leave them for the duration of the flight.

I can't tell if you're serious.
posted by gman at 8:12 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Hijackings apparently used to be somewhat more mundane than we now think of them. For reference, have a look at the List of Cuba–United States aircraft hijackings.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:19 AM on February 17


You can't eliminate co-pilots, and self-flying planes aren't coming any time soon. The solution is to have two isolated, armoured cockpits, and ground control able to disable or take over the controls in both cockpits remotely. Pilot and copilot don't leave them for the duration of the flight.

Setting aside everything else, the solution to aircraft security is probably not to make them remotely exploitable.
posted by jaduncan at 8:24 AM on February 17 [10 favorites]


It's easy to imagine an experienced pilot not taking a toilet break over a six hour flight. Wonder what Plan B was, or are pilots subjected to compulsory scheduled breaks out of the cockpit?
posted by de at 8:28 AM on February 17


Clearly the solution is to put a third armed guard in the cockpit to keep an eye on the other two. You could call him the Navigator or the Flight Engineer, but really his job would be to put a bullet in the back of the head of any pilot who gets out of line.

At least this pilot wasn't suicidal. Much better outcome than EgyptAir 990 or SilkAir 185.
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Um I'm very sorry to be a monumental idiot, but how can I see the flight path troika links in the 1st comment? It opens to Wichita area airspace. I scrolled over to Ethiopia, but there's lots of winged things showing up.

Is it a historical path of travel, or just general here's how the typical route goes?
posted by yoga at 8:39 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Clearly the solution is to put a third armed guard in the cockpit to keep an eye on the other two. You could call him the Navigator or the Flight Engineer, but really his job would be to put a bullet in the back of the head of any pilot who gets out of line.

I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure this is the plot to Liam Neeson's new movie.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:48 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


From Italy it seems this co-pilot could have wandered off to anywhere in Europe, being EU and all.

Over my breakfast table we were theorizing that maybe he can't get through customs in Rome in the first place. Will Italy give an Ethiopian a visa easily? My guess would be no.
posted by zvs at 8:59 AM on February 17


MuffinMan wrote: an attempt was made to fly a plane into the White House more than 25 years ago....

The two I know of are 20 years ago and 40 years ago... were you referring to the Nixon era attempt, or was there another one that happened in the 80s?
posted by 1367 at 9:50 AM on February 17


The answer is so simple. Equip every passenger with a firearm and provide open access to the cockpit.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:54 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


From Italy it seems this co-pilot could have wandered off to anywhere in Europe, being EU and all

While there is freedom of movement around the EU for EU citizens, each country has their own border. You can't just wander off to another country without papers.
posted by billiebee at 10:10 AM on February 17


This is someone who claims to be his sister, and if so, she is pretty confused as to why this happened.
posted by jeanmari at 10:16 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The answer is so simple. Equip every passenger with a firearm and provide open access to the cockpit.

I think providing passengers controlled access to weapons* in a hijacking is a good idea, since it would allow an active on-the-spot response (rather than military overreaction or a bureaucratic after-the-fact one). However, giving untrained people guns on a plane is a really bad idea. It's more likely that everything except the hijacker will get shot and the cabin will depressurize.

* e.g. sharp knives or clubs in secure containers that can only be released by the pilots, flight attendants, or air marshals.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:53 AM on February 17


The answer is so simple. Equip every passenger with a firearm and provide open access to the cockpit.

You seem to have forgotten your hamburger tag.
posted by aught at 11:05 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


1367: New York Air Flight 681, apparently, included the threat to crash onto the White House. Although the attacker was fresh out of a psychiatric institution so how serious he was is debatable.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:10 AM on February 17


self-flying planes aren't coming any time soon

What do you think drones are the harbinger of? Self-flying planes are two decades away at the outside.
posted by lastobelus at 11:38 AM on February 17


Over my breakfast table we were theorizing that maybe he can't get through customs in Rome in the first place. Will Italy give an Ethiopian a visa easily? My guess would be no.

I don't know if there are specific peculiarities about this relating to Italy and Ethiopa, but I think in general aircraft operating crew on duty can go through immigration without obtaining a personal visa if they are scheduled to crew another plane shortly thereafter. I imagine it would be relatively easy to wait until you had a stopover in a city, go through immigration, check into the layover hotel and then walk out.
posted by running order squabble fest at 11:46 AM on February 17


I imagine it would be relatively easy to wait until you had a stopover in a city, go through immigration, check into the layover hotel and then walk out.

There was an article posted on the Blue that suggests it's not always this simple.
posted by chrominance at 12:29 PM on February 17


However, giving untrained people guns on a plane is a really bad idea.
posted by billiebee at 12:51 PM on February 17


Thanks for the twitter link jeanmari.
posted by dabitch at 1:03 PM on February 17


"The shoe bomber only happened once, and I still have to remove my clodhoppers"

I flew yesterday and TSA Seattle had a new process that didn't require me to remove anything from my body (shoes, jacket, belt, etc.) or bag (laptop, liquids, etc.) nor did they use a pornoscanner. They just had me walk through a machine that senses for explosive residue. So hopefully they'll be rolling that out to the rest of the country soon.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:47 PM on February 17


They just had me walk through a machine that senses for explosive residue.

That seems like its open to a world of issues, no? If you handle explosives using protective gear that you then discard, is it still detected? If you're handling something relatively benign, such as the hydrogen peroxide hairdressers and beauticians use, will they detect that and count it as potential explosives? What happens if they detect a substance that could be explosives but isn't? For example:

Expert witness Frank Skuse said Mr Hill and Mr Power had tested positive for nitroglycerine in Greiss tests - chemical analysis looking for the presence of organic nitrate compounds.

Other scientists had argued the test was unreliable because a positive result could be gained from nitrocellulose in a range of innocent products.

In the autumn of 1985, World in Action demonstrated how shuffling an old pack of playing cards containing the substance produced a positive Greiss test. The accused men had played cards on their train journey.


Walking through a machine that says "Yeah you're clear / Stop you've handled explosives" seems terribly simplistic.
posted by billiebee at 2:37 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


However, giving untrained people guns on a plane is a really bad idea.

Well, there are already (trained) people with guns on planes. It's a better idea than hoping passenger screening procedures are 100% effective.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 3:17 PM on February 17


There was an article posted on the Blue that suggests it's not always this simple.

That's a somewhat different thing, I think, chrominance. The exit visa system is a peculiarity of certain states, and leads to situations like the two-year struggle of the French footballer Zahar Belounis to leave Qatar, because his club, although they were not paying him, still argued that he was their employee, and could prevent him leaving the country. The company-owned housing is also something Gulf State companies often do for (or to, depending on your perspective) foreign workers.

However, when Qatar Airlines operational crew are laying over outside Qatar they are still being put up in hotels, and to get to those hotels they will leave the international area of the airport, either on an individual visa, a crew visa or another arrangement:
Javier, who wants to keep his job until employment opportunities in Europe improve, decides to stay away from the confined flight attendants with whom he shares a workplace. They ride the same staff buses, sleep in the same airport hotels and share the same cabin - but visiting them at home is too risky.
In the US, that would now require an individual visa (a C or D visa): many countries, I think, still accept some variation of the "Gen Dec" for operational crew - the general declaration form, along with passport and crew ID as being good enough to leave the airport for a limited period, in accordance with the ICAO recommendations on facilitation. So, like, Australia I think will let operational crew through immigration for short periods if they are registered with the Crew Travel Authority without an individual visa, and Japan offers international flight crews flying into Narita "shore passes", which let them out of the international area of the airport but don't allow them to leave Narita - so they can stay at airport hotels but not go into Tokyo proper...

(This may all be outdated info.)

However, you did make me think about this, and I'm not actually sure if an Ethiopian airline pilot would be able to leave Rome airport without a short-term-stay visa. Ethiopian passengers transferring in the Schengen Area would need an airport transit visa to enter the airport even for transit, but flight crew wouldn't (because Ethiopia is a signatory to the Chicago Convention). So, you can hang out in the international area of the airport, but can't leave the airport.

On t'other hand, it still feels like a) getting a visa either individually or through Ethiopian Airlines or b) sneaking out of the international section of the airport* would be a lot less complex than hijacking one's own plane. All very peculiar.

*Or indeed walking straight out of it, possibly purposefully in a pilot's uniform, Carol Burnett-style, getting arrested and claiming asylum then.

If you're handling something relatively benign, such as the hydrogen peroxide hairdressers and beauticians use, will they detect that and count it as potential explosives? What happens if they detect a substance that could be explosives but isn't?

Previously.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:20 PM on February 17


Well, there are already (trained) people with guns on planes. It's a better idea than hoping passenger screening procedures are 100% effective.

How much better? From your link:

The levels of criminality of air marshals, and their effectiveness against crime and terror, have also been questioned. According to Congressman John J. Duncan, the air marshal program has led to only 4.2 arrests a year, at an average cost of $200 million per arrest. He argued that this represents a win of the perceived dangers of terror, supported by a profit center-type approach, over realistic spending priorities
posted by billiebee at 4:25 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I know! Every passenger gets a button to vote on whether to land the plane immediately under computer control and lock the pilots in the cockpit. Also, free cocktails are served until final approach.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:39 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I like your voting idea! But let's give the passengers more direct control, maybe via chat inputs to a Twitch stream of their plane.

(Speculation about the pilot's motives and plan should probably start and end with the assumption he wasn't acting completely rationally. At least until we know otherwise.)
posted by Nelson at 4:54 PM on February 17


But let's give the passengers more direct control, maybe via chat inputs to a Twitch stream of their plane.

Right. We need 3000 aircraft tracing penises in the sky.
posted by jquinby at 5:06 PM on February 17


I never realized just how much we did until you said that.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:28 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


In 1953 Czech pilot Mira Slovak hijacked his plane to West Germany and received asylum and later became a pilot for Continental Airlines.
posted by zeikka at 7:14 PM on February 17


IamA passenger on yesterday's Hijacked plane from Ethiopian Airlines to Geneva. Contrary to news coverage, it was hell. AMA!. Reddit's standard of proof for identity isn't great, so this might be a hoax, but it's fun reading.
posted by Nelson at 8:10 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Wow, that sounds terrifying.
posted by dabitch at 9:59 AM on February 18


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