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Passengers Tell of Terror Onboard Hijacked Jet

<p>Oxygen masks fell unexpectedly and the plane plunged three times before landing.</p><p></p>
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Passengers aboard the Ethiopia to Rome jet that was hijacked by the co-pilot have told of their terror as the plane plunged towards the earth three times and the confusion that reigned as he decided where to land.

“We were scared as we thought the plane had a mechanical failure,” said Vittoria Bertolotto, a 22-year-old shop assistant from Milan, who added that the co-pilot, later identified as Hailemedhin Abera, kept telling passengers to stay in their seats and keep quiet.

Others told the Associated Press that he threatened to crash the plane if the plane’s captain did not stop pounding on the locked door.

"The pilot went to the toilet and (the co-pilot) locked himself in the cockpit," Geneva airport chief executive Robert Deillon told reporters.

Bertolotto said the crew were handing out dinner when the face masks suddenly dropped at around 1 a.m. local time Monday (8p.m. ET Sunday).

“Most weren’t concerned as we could breathe normally,” she said. “Then the plane plunged three times.”

“The plane landed normally,” she added. “There was even a round of applause as we were relieved we finally made it to the ground. Only then the captain told us what was going on.”

Abera had worked at the airline for five years and had no criminal record, Ethiopia's communications minister Redwan Hussein told the Associated Press.

Geneva police said he claimed he felt threatened at home was looking to seek asylum in Switzerland, where he will be charged with hostage-taking, a crime that carries up to 20 years in prison.