A Ryanair flight heading to Vilnius, Lithuania from Athens, Greece was escorted by a warplane to Minsk, Belarus, by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko today. The reason for this dramatic turn of events was so opposition journalist Roman Protasevich could be arrested.
An unexpected twist
The Boeing 737-800 had left Athens at 10:29 EEST. The aircraft passed through Bulgarian, Romanian, and Ukrainian airspace with no issues. However, after passing through Belarus and being so close to reaching the Lithuania border, the aircraft diverted southeast to land at Minsk Airport at 13:21 MSK.
Reuters reveals that this drastic change of direction is due to a MIG-29 fighter jet escorting the Ryanair narrowbody. Altogether, Belarusian authorities ordered the move because Protasevich was on board the aircraft. The blogger and activist has been on a wanted list since last year’s mass street protests in response to the current president’s election win.
Belarus state news agency BeITA initially reported that the diversion was due to explosives on board the flight. However, no bombs have been found on the aircraft.
Lithuanian officials state that the diversion operation was preplanned and that Belarus intelligence knew who was on board. Notably, Protasevich is behind the opposition Telegram news channel NEXTA.
Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauseda has expressed his frustration following the diversion. Overall, he calls for the release of Protasevich and has shared the need for a response from global organizations.
“I call on NATO and EU allies to immediately react to the threat posed to international civil aviation by the Belarus regime,” Nauseda shared, as reported by Reuters.
“The international community must take immediate steps that this does not repeat.”
Simple Flying reached out to Ryanair for comment on the reports. A spokesperson for the airline shared that the crew members on the flight were notified by Belarus ATC of a potential security threat on board and were instructed to divert to the nearest airport, which was Minsk.
Thus, the plane landed safely, and passengers were offloaded while security checks were undertaken by local officials. After it was concluded that there were no safety concerns, the plane was cleared to depart after five hours on the ground.
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A word from Ryanair
Minsk airport informed the airline the plane is expected to depart at 19:00 local time. Understandably, Ryanair has expressed its regret about what occurred and said that the situation was out of its control. Regardless, it has apologized to all passengers impacted by the incident.
The Ryanair 737 was carrying approximately 170 people from 12 nations. Undoubtedly, they were in for a scare following the sudden diversion and appearance of a fighter jet.
What are your thoughts about this Ryanair flight being forced to land in this manner? What do you make of how the situation was handled? Let us know what you think of the events in the comment section.