On the early morning of Feb. 17, the copilot of an Ethiopian Boeing 767 airliner flying from Addis Ababa to Rome hijacked the plane and its 202 passengers while the pilot was in the toilet.
Italian jet fighters intercepted the airliner and, later, French jets followed it until it landed in Geneva. The Swiss air force was unable to send its own F-18 fighters to help with the aerial policing … because Switzerland’s flying branch wasn’t yet open for business.
Most of the world’s air forces, it’s worth pointing out, work around the clock. But not the Swiss.
Alerted by the airline, two Italian Eurofighter Typhoon fighters from 36° Stormo scrambled from Gioia del Colle in southeastern Italy to intercept the 767, which was flying under the radio call sign “ET 702.” In the air within 15 minutes, the armed Italian warplanes headed west, vectored by ground-based air defense radars.
The two Typhoons found the 767 off of Sicily, identified it and shadowed it on its way out of Italian airspace.
When the Ethiopian jetliner reached the boundaries of French airspace, the Italians handed escort duties to the French air force, whose Mirage 2000 fighters followed until the 767 landed safely in Geneva. The copilot was arrested.
The French had to accompany the hijacked liner until its landing in Switzerland because the entire interception took place before the Swiss air force’s normal working hours from 8:00 AM to noon, followed by a second shift from 1:30 PM to 5:00 PM!
“You have a budget and you have to prioritize,” Swiss Air Force spokesman Juerg Nussbaum explained. So if you want to attack Switzerland, plan for the off hours.