Last night, an Emirates flight from Athens to Newark was ordered to return to Athens due to concerns that there was a terror suspect onboard. Now that the flight has finally taken off again for the US, here is what we know.
Emirates Flight Ordered Back to Athens Due to Terror Suspect
Emirates flies what is called a “fifth freedom” flight from Athens to Newark. It is flight EK 209 and is part of Emirates flight from Dubai to Athens which then continues on to Newark, New Jersey. This flight can be flown and purchased for either leg or for the entire duration. What happens is that the flight comes from Dubai to Athens and then it continues on to Newark. At the same time, there is a flight that is coming from Newark to Athens and then on to Dubai.
Last night, November 10, there was an alert from the American CIA to Greek authorities that there was a terror suspect onboard. This caused the Athens to Dubai flight to pull back to the gate to have all the passengers and luggage searched again before finally departing to Dubai with a green light.
But, for the flight from Athens to Newark, they were notified in flight of the security situation and ordered by Greek aviation authorities to return to Greece. There are reports that there were requests to put down in either Italy or France due to the situation and its urgent nature but both countries reportedly refused to allow the plane to land at their airports.
Instead, the aircraft when into a circular pattern over the island of Sardinia before returning to Greece. But, the return orders were that they had to only fly over the water and they were escorted with Hellenic Air Force F-16 jets back to Athens, arriving a little over 4 hours after takeoff. The reason for the flight solely over water could have been protocol for the nature of the terror threat or possibly due to the escort by fighter jets.
It landed about 10PM, which was around the same time that the Emirates flight from Athens to Dubai ended up taking off.
This Emirates flight that had been US-bound had been directed to the area reserved for cargo planes and a strict security inspection began of the passengers and the plane itself.
As of 8am this morning, Greek time, the security inspection of the aircraft was still ongoing. This was 10 hours since the landing. At 12:36PM local time in Greece, Emirates flight 209 finally took off again for Newark, having received the all-clear the aircraft. What is not known at this time is if the passenger was arrested but what I have been hearing from some people that know more about this situation is that the individual, reported to be an Arab passenger, is a suspect that has been involved in other terror related incidents.
This was a statement by Emirates provided to news media: ‘Emirates can confirm flight EK210 from Athens to Dubai on 10 November returned to stand before takeoff. Flight EK209 from Athens to Newark on 10 November also made an unscheduled return to Athens, due to security checks requested by the authorities,’ they added, saying passengers had been rebooked to travel on Friday and been provided with overnight accommodation.
What we do know is that it was US intelligence authorities that alerted Greece which means that this alleged suspect was on some watchlist with US intelligence agencies but not on a list that Greece had access to (unless he was traveling under a different ID and the US figured that out while the flight was in the air). However, local police have said that there was nothing suspicious on the plane and as of last night, no one had been arrested. But, that doesn’t mean that the alleged terror suspect was not arrested – obviously, there are reasons why the authorities may not want to release that information.
What had at first been reported by state media is that the actions taken by the aircraft were those that would be used if the pilot had used the hijacking code “renegade” but there was no confirmation if this had actually happened (and most likely not since it was the US that alerted Greece who ordered the pilots to return to Greece). This was probably just conjecture at the time based on the planes unscheduled flight path.
I have flown this very flight several times and I know that the flight is treated no differently than other flights that depart from Athens airport, though there were a couple of times that Greece had extra security before all US-bound flights. I am not sure if this was the case last night or not, or if it will start to be the case yet again.