Ethiopian Pilot Who Hijacked Plane Gets Sentenced To Therapy

Filed Under: Ethiopian, Other Airlines

In February 2014 I shared the story of an Ethiopian 767 which was hijacked enroute from Addis Ababa to Rome. While somewhere over Sudan the captain went to use the restroom, at which point the first officer locked him out of the cockpit and declared that the plane was hijacked, requesting the plane land in Switzerland so that the hijacker could receive asylum.

During the incident it wasn’t apparent to the emergency responders on the ground that the hijacker was in fact the pilot, though that was found out once the plane landed in Geneva.

Fortunately the incident ended with no one getting hurt, unlike the subsequent Germanwings crash, where the first officer also locked the captain out of the cockpit, except he flew the plane into the ground.

This is obviously a very complex case, though a ruling has finally been made.

So, how much jail time will a guy who hijacked an airliner with 202 people onboard face? None!

Ethiopian 767 business class


During Monday’s sentencing, the judge deemed the defendant’s risk of relapse to be high and so sentenced him to undergo therapy while under guard in canton Geneva. The pilot is already receiving treatment for paranoid schizophrenia and was not present at the sentencing hearing.

The defence team had asked that the pilot be set free because he had not endangered the lives of any passengers aboard the aeroplane and the other pilot was able to safely land in Geneva.

As soon as he is financially solvent, the defendant will have to pay fees for the trial totaling CHF3,000 ($3,092) as well as the costs for his defence team. His pilot’s license has been revoked.

So the pilot has had his license revoked, and will be required to undergo therapy. In theory he’ll have to eventually pay for legal fees, though I have to wonder if he’ll ever be “financially solvent” again.

The 40 year old ex-pilot really lucked out, because in theory he could have been charged with taking hostages, which could have resulted in a sentence of up to 20 years in a Swiss prison. But it was determined that he wasn’t capable of making competent decisions, which is why he’s not getting a criminal sentence.

The defense argued that he hadn’t endangered the lives of passengers onboard. Aside from the obvious danger of a mentally unstable person locked in a cockpit, he clearly did put passengers at risk. The plane was down to just two minutes of fuel when it landed, so he got the plane into a situation where it couldn’t have performed a go around — he had one shot to land the plane.

Interestingly an Ethiopian court sentenced the man to 19 years and six months in prison back in March, though the Swiss are refusing to extradite him to Ethiopia. So it seems like the guy may very well get the Swiss asylum he was hoping for.

Ethiopian 777-300ER at Addis Ababa Airport

Bottom line

I was curious as to what happened with this incident, so it’s interesting to hear the conclusion. Everyone has different opinions as to what proper punishment is for people who do horrible things. You have people who think the solution is jail time or the death penalty, while you have others who think anyone who commits a serious irrational crime is mentally unstable, and the correct way to deal with that is to provide therapy, rather than to punish. There’s certainly merit to both sides.

What do you make of the Swiss court’s ruling for the former Ethiopian pilot?

  1. Sending mentally ill people to jail is just heartless and cruel, no matter where in the world you are.
    As for airline companies that do not screen or evaluate their employees, that’s a different animal alltogether.

  2. Firstly, thank you very much for following up on this — that’s great. Many bloggers never tie loose ends, so thanks.

    As far as the comment “The plane was down to just two minutes of fuel when it landed”, it is not supported by the very useful article by the excellent John Walton. All we know is that 18 minutes had elapsed since the hijacker told ATC that he had 20 minutes of fuel left, but we don’t know whether this was a bluff to try to elicit a response from the Swiss on the asylum question.

  3. I’m an ex pilot who stopped flying due to depression. I wrote an article on about my experience and how frankly the whole industry lacks support for mental health issues. I took myself out of flying and seeked support myself and I’m now better than ever. The sad reality is that most flight crew or trainee pilot’s are afraid to speak out at the risk of suspension of licence or the end of their career. Just an open support structure from initial training and into the airlines that urges open discussion about a crew members ‘struggles’ should be encouraged. Currently even finding home life tough is treated by the aviation industry as a “leave it at home” issue. All these tragic events and occurrences could have been prevented full stop. This mostly isn’t just about Pilot’s going nuts and wanting to bring down an aircraft. The biggest threat is distraction. Doesn’t matter If you locked 4 crew into the flight deck. If they are all overworked, undervalued and struggling with personal problems like family or money etc then an accident will still happen because they will not be focused on their job or not mentally capable in the event of an emergency.

    This is the article I wrote for anyone curious.

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