Written by Staff Writer, CNN
The late Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 547 with 235 passengers was forced to return to Addis Ababa and land on January 6 after security forces discovered anti-aircraft weapons in the plane, according to a report from the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA).
In the report, given to CNN earlier this month, the association’s authors said the weapons were in a flight suit safe in the cargo hold.
IFALPA, which has close links to Ethiopian Airlines, said that, according to a reliable source, the weapons belonged to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) , the paramilitary organization that ruled Ethiopia for 32 years under the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, between 1991 and 2015. The rule ended in April 2015.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 547
The TPLF had been aligned with the rebel movements within Ethiopia after an unresolved dispute with military leader Mengistu Haile Mariam, who was defeated by the Derg, a military faction that overthrew him in 1991, according to the report. A combination of factors which Ethiopian Airlines has yet to fully explain led to the TPLF and Derg fighting each other in 1992 and failing to find an agreement.
The TPLF benefited from the struggle, taking advantage of a population which had experienced political instability, said IGACTS’ report. They “capitalized upon socioeconomic instability resulting from disagreements over government policy, due to which entire sectors of the population were never fully benefited from democratic rule.”
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 547 with 235 passengers
This assessment remains disputed by some independent observers, as local journalist Moses Dyer recently told CNN that the TPLF were badly split at the time, with one section “pro-government” and another opposing them.
Dyer, an aviation consultant and former pilot for Ethiopian Airlines, said the best explanation was that the weapons had been forgotten to be loaded and hid in the flight suit.
The incident is also considered a major security breach by IFALPA. “There were no passengers on that plane, it was just the flight crew,” said IFEAAFO/Lifer Airline Pilots’ Association President Marcel Liddel-Graff during a speech in Addis Ababa on May 15. “They should’ve been studying their bags — should’ve been asking passengers to sort out their baggage.”
Ethiopian Airlines previously commented on the incident: “The plane had not left Addis Ababa when these reports were made. There had been no protests of people being suspected of being political. It was speculated that the operation of the plane was mishandled, and we don’t have reasons to believe this is the case.”