Exclusive: Who’s Ethiopian hijacker Hailemedhin Abera?

Ethiopian Airlines is on the headlines today(Monday) following the hijacking of one its Boeing 767 planes.

Flight 702 left Addis Ababa at 12:30am local time on February 17 (Sunday midnight). It was scheduled to arrive in Rome at 4:40am. However, it was hijacked while over northern Italy and it flew to Switzerland and landed at Geneva at 08:02 pm Addis Ababa time.

The hijacker was the co-pilot of the plane.

It was when the Captain, who is Italian, went to rest room that the copilot took control of the plane. According to Swiss authorities, “[the co-pilot] surrendered to police at Geneva airport after jumping out of a cockpit window and scrambling down an emergency rope.”

Hours later, Ethiopian government disclosed the copilot-turned-hijacker was Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn.

Photo - Hailemedhin Abera,  Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot turned hijacker
Photo – Hailemedhin Abera, Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot turned hijacker

Who is Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn?

His close friends described him to HornAffairs as following:

Hailemedhin Abera Tegegne was born in 1983, now 31 years old. He was born on Aug. 30, 1983 in Bahir-dar city, which is found on the off-shores of Tana Lake, the source of Nile, in western Ethiopia.

Hailemedhin was raised in Bahirdar city, at the center of city called “kebel zero sost”. He attended school at Megabit haya sement elementary school, then Bahirdar Secondary School in 2000/01.

Subsequently, he joined Addis Ababa University Architecture department, which he quit to join the state-monopoly Ethiopian Airlines.

According to Ethiopian government statement, Hailemedhin was employed in the airline company for the past five years. (There seems to be a few years gap unaccounted for,  given his birth year, period of employment and year of high school graduation – even if we allot two years for pilot training school.)

Hailemedhin is described by his high school friends as a quiet and reclusive man who rarely enjoyed social gatherings.

Photo - Swiss authorities detained hijacker - Ethiopian Airlines flight - Geneva's international airport
Photo – Swiss authorities detained hijacker – Ethiopian Airlines flight – Geneva’s international airport

He was raised by a devotee Orthodox Christians family. Both of his parents are alive and residents of Bahirdar city.

His mother is a house-wife while the father is widely-known in the city as being engaged in usury(lending to money with high interest). However, the fact that he was not detained during a recent crackdown on usury triggered a rumor of having a cozy relationship with government officials among Bahirdar residents.

However, a member of the family  snubbed the claim about the father saying that:

“The father – Abera Tegene – was a whole sale merchant until 1984, then he bought a failing Restaurant and turned it into successful restaurant. As he got older he couldn’t handle day today management so he started a business of rental properties. He is not a usurer.”

Most of our sources – acquainted with Hailemedhin – concurred that he was a man of good characters. He – as well as his six sisters and four brothers – are known in Bahirdar city as outstanding students. Hailemedhin is the youngest son but got two younger sisters..

Hailemedhin is not married but lives with his girlfriend in Addis Ababa – at an apartment nearby Imperial Hotel, in Addis Ababa. His girlfriend is a self-employed lady and running a small internet-cafe, according to one of his friends.

There was nothing to suggest that Hailemedhin had any prior plan of creating an international incident – according to the conversations he had with his close friends a day before he left Addis Ababa, which I can’t disclose to protect the anonymity of my sources.

[I will update and provide more details as soon as possible]


*The text above includes correction made made after the first publishing of this post regarding Hailemedhin’s birth place, elementary school and the number of his brothers and sisters. We also included a quote from a family member indicating that the father is not involved in usury.

[Stay tuned]

Daniel Berhane

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