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Hijacking: French cover for 'off duty' Swiss jets

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Hijacking: French cover for 'off duty' Swiss jets
French fighter jets were forced to escort this hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane to Geneva, Switzerland because the Swiss Airforce does not operate outside office hours Photo: Richard Juilliart/AFP
08:42 CET+01:00
French fighter jets were forced to accompany the hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane to Switzerland’s Geneva airport on Monday, because the Swiss airforce only operates during regular office hours, it has emerged.

When the plane’s co-pilot took hold of the aircraft after the pilot had popped to the toilet it was Italian and French fighter jets who were immediately scrambled once the alarm was raised.

First of all two Italian Eurofighter’s took the responsibility of escorting the aircraft which had been due to land in Rome and then two Mirages 2000 French planes from the French airforce took over at the border and accompanied the hijacked aircraft to Switzerland.

At no point did the Swiss airforce intervene. This wasn’t due to the fact officials had not been alerted, which they had been at 4.30am, it was just that presumably they were all still at home in bed as the Swiss airforce is only operational during normal office hours i.e. not before 8am.

This was confirmed by a Swiss airforce spokesman Laurent Savary on Monday.

"Switzerland cannot intervene because its airbases are closed at night and on the weekend," the spokesman told AFP.

"It's a question of budget and staffing,” he added.

Savary said Switzerland relies heavily on deals with its neighbors, especially France, to help police its airspace outside regular office hours.

He explained that French fighters can escort a suspicious aircraft into Swiss airspace, "but there is no question of shooting it down. It's a question of national sovereignty".

Switzerland is apparently planning to expand its airforce and make it operational around the clock and even on weekends, but that will not be until at least 2020.

Until then French airforce pilots will just have to accept taking on the extra workload.

A total of 202 passengers and crew were on board the Boeing 767 as the drama unfolded. Addis Ababa identified the co-pilot as 31-year-old Hailemedehin Abera Tagegn, who has been working for the airline for five years.

He told police "he felt threatened in his country and wants to seek asylum in Switzerland," Swiss police spokesman Eric Grandjean told AFP.

SEE ALSO: Swiss army trains for French invasion

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