Hailemedhin Abera Tegegn, whose age is either 30 or 31, is a “quiet and reclusive man, who rarely enjoyed social gatherings”, the Horn Affairs website said after contacting the man’s close 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,” the website's writer Daniel Berhane said.
“Most of our sources – acquainted with Hailemedhin – concurred that he was a man of good character.”
Tegegn was not married but was living in an apartment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s largest city, with his girlfriend, who runs a small internet café, Horn Affairs said, citing one of his friends.
He was born in 1983 at Zegie Island on Tana Lake, the source of the River Nile, in western Ethiopia, said the website, which gave his age as 31.
A reader tweeted that he was born on August 30th 1983, which would make him 30.
Tegegn was raised in the city of Bahirdar, where he went to elementary and secondary school before studying architecture at Addis Ababa University, according to the report.
Although regarded as an "outstanding" student, he dropped out of university to work for the state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, where he has been employed for five years, Ethiopian government sources said.
Tegegn came from a large family with five brothers and six sisters,” according to a tweet from a reader of Horn Affairs, and and was raised by “Orthodox Christian” parents.
The website said Tegegn’s father is a money lender, rumoured to have a “cosy relationship with government officials” because “he was not detained during a recent crackdown on usury”.
With more than 93 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous land-locked country in the world.
A former one-party state, it adopted a new constitution and a multiparty system with a federal parliament, headed by a prime minister, in 1994.
But the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2010 described Ethiopia as an “authoritarian regime” dominated by one ruling party.
Tegegn was co-pilot on flight 702 of a Boeing 767 that left Addis Ababa with 202 passengers and crew at 12.30am on Monday, with a scheduled arrival in Rome at 4.40am.
The co-pilot seized the opportunity to lock himself into the cockpit when the plane’s Italian pilot went to the toilet.
He flew the aircraft to Geneva airport where he surrendered to police and requested political asylum in Switzerland.
None of the passengers or other crew were hurt, Geneva police said.
Authorities in Switzerland say he has a slim chance of gaining asylum and faces up to 20 years in jail for hijacking the plane.