Yesterday, a flight diversion took place that has called for action against Belarus and the Belarusian government. It was a in response to a disturbing flight diversion involving a Ryanair flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuinia. Here is what happened.
Disturbing Ryanair Diversion Resulted in Journalist’s Arrest
Ryanair flight 4978 departed Athens, Greece yesterday (May 23) at 10:28AM. It was due to arrive in Vilnius, Lithuania at 1PM. However, just before leaving Belarus airspace and entering Lithuania, flight controllers in Belarus informed the pilots of a “bomb threat” and the flight was ordered to divert to Minsk. According to the president’s own press statement, the president himself ordered a MiG-29 fighter jet to fly alongside the Ryanair Boeing 738 aircraft to Minsk airport.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 23, 2021
Upon arrival, Roman Pratasevich and his girlfriend were taken off the plane. Roman is an activist and founder of a online messaging service to provide news and information in opposition of the president of Belarus. It was reported that when Roman heard that the plane was being forced to divert to Minsk, he said that couldn’t land there as there was a “death penalty” awaiting him there.
The Disturbing Aspects
Countries around the world are calling out Belarus on this as no one really believes that the bomb threat was anything beyond an attempt to get the plane to land in Belarus. If you look at the flight map (found here), you can see that the plane was closer to Vilnius airport than it was to the Minsk airport. It was just 10 kilometers from crossing into Lithuania.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Greek and French fighter jets escorted an El Al flight across the Mediterranean after it was reported that a bomb threat had been made against the plane. El Al planes do not put down at airports other than Tel Aviv in such situations if at all possible, this is why they continued. So, continuing on for the Ryanair flight would not have been something unusual and would have, in fact, been a normal move considering the distance left and the fact that it was the actual destination airport.
Agents in Greece?
Greece is livid right now as they are saying that there were Belarusian agents on the ground in Athens that had been tracking Roman and reported on the flight to authorities in Minsk which, it is strongly believed, triggered the “bomb threat” to force the landing in Minsk and allow Raman to be detained. This is extremely disturbing that such a move would take place by a country that a commercial aircraft was flying over at the time.
Along with Roman and his girlfriend, four Russian nationals also did not reboard. Raman told his colleagues on Telegram that he was approached by an unknown Russian man at the Athens airport and the man took a photo of him.
Ryanair’s Handling of the Situation
Another disturbing aspect of this was Ryanair’s insensitive media statement about this situation. Ryanair is well-known for not caring about customers anyway but this takes it to a whole other level.
Our FR4978 flight has landed safely in Vilnius at 19:25hrs UK time (21:25hrs local time). Here is Ryanair’s statement on today’s diversion to Minsk Airport 👇 pic.twitter.com/i0xhdpwTAF
— Ryanair Press Office (@RyanairPress) May 23, 2021
Apologizing for the delay and saying nothing about the detention of its passengers after a widely-believed bomb hoax? I get not talking about an unverified hoax but it is ridiculous that they did not have anything to say about the passengers removed from the plane. Shame on Ryanair for their response to this but, honestly, I cannot say I am surprised given that it was Ryanair.
This morning, Ryanair published an updated statement about which condemned what they call an act of “aviation piracy”. I am leaving the original statement above as well.
Our updated statement regarding yesterday’s (23 May) diversion of FR4978. pic.twitter.com/BANHrDvXMq
— Ryanair Press Office (@RyanairPress) May 24, 2021
Who Ordered the Diversion?
The Belarusian government says that it was the decision of the Ryanair crew to divert but Ryanair says that it was ordered by Belarus. This will definitely be something that is drilled down on in coming days.
This is thoroughly disturbing as it certainly appears to have been a state-ordered hijacking via hoax in order to arrest an opponent. While airlines have not made statements, according to FlightRadar 24, it appears that some aircraft are already avoiding flying over Belarusian airspace. The Greek and Lithuanian governments are furious about the Belarusian move and there is no question that some passengers are nervous about something like this even happening.
We haven’t seen any official airline announcements but it looks like some airlines are avoiding Belarus airspace. pic.twitter.com/VfVsRXqus8
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 24, 2021
What do you think about this disturbing diversion?