‘They will kill me’, said journalist after flight diversion announcement – Prisma

The bomb threat that resulted in a Ryanair plane being hijacked and, as a result, the arrest of Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich — a critic of the Belarusian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko — was false. The conclusion is from a report produced by Icao (International Civil Aviation Organization), whose excerpts were published by The Aviation Herald.

“As neither a bomb nor evidence of its existence was found during pre-departure screening in Athens, Greece, and after multiple searches of the aircraft in Belarus and Lithuania, the bomb threat is considered to have been deliberately false,” he said. says the document.

The report was prepared by a team of ICAO investigators made up of experts in safety and navigation, as well as professionals in international aeronautical law.

On May 23, 2020, the Irish airline Ryanair FR4978 departed Athens, Greece, bound for Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The aircraft was flying over Belarusian airspace when, about 10 kilometers from the Lithuanian border, the crew was alerted by the country’s flight controllers to a possible onboard bomb threat. The plane changed direction and headed for Minsk, capital of Belarus.

“We have information from the special services that you have a bomb on board, which can be activated in Vilnius (…) for security reasons we recommend that you disembark in Uniform Mike Mike Sierra”, in a reference to the Icao code for the airport from Minsk.

According to Minsk Air Traffic Control (ATC), an email received by other terminals contained the following threat:

“We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war. We know that Delphi Economic Forum participants are returning home on May 23 on flight FR4978 . A bomb was planted on this aircraft. If you do not meet our requirements, the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius. Allahu Akbar.”

Seconds later, an email with the same text was received by the airport operator in Lithuania. A minute later Athens airport and Sofia airport received emails with the same text.

The report, however, does not show or quote the entire email header.

Ryanar then requests clarification on the origin of the message. The controller limits himself to replying that “the airport security personnel informed that they received an email”. The crew then question whether it was the security personnel at the airport in Vilnius or in Greece.

The controller reports: “This email has been shared with several airports”.

The aircraft crew asks to get in touch with their operations department via radio frequency. Unsuccessfully.

Ryanair asks ATC where the recommendation to divert the flight to Minsk came from. The controller replied that it was his recommendation.

Unsuccessfully, the aircraft tries several contacts with the authorities in Minsk to obtain more detailed information about the security threat.

Ryanair pilots ask for threat code and controller states:

“They warn that the code is red.”

Fifteen minutes after being informed of the threat by Minsk ATC at 09:57 (Zulu time), the crew diverts the plane to Minsk, declares an emergency and selects the code 7700 on their transponder, which means “emergency on board”.

Soon after, one of the Ryanair pilots makes an announcement to the passengers (PA), informing the detour to Minsk for safety reasons.

In a panic, Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich gets up from his seat and addresses the commissioners:

“I am wanted there, they will kill me”.

The crew tries to reassure the passenger. Despite the fear, the commissioners later reported that Protasevich remained disciplined.

A MIG-29 was even dispatched to escort Ryanair. But, according to the Aviation Herald, the military fighter failed to intercept the Boeing 737-800, which had landed in Minsk.

The report is clear in stating that no evidence has been provided by Minsk or Belarus control of any attempt to contact the Ryanair Operations Center. The flight plan contained a telephone number for direct contact with the center, although its inclusion was not based on any provision of Icao. However, there is evidence in telephone recordings and transcripts that the Ryanair Control Center tried, on several occasions and without success, to obtain information about the diverted aircraft until hours after the landing in Minsk.

Coordination talks between flight crews that led to the decision to divert the plane to Minsk airport could not be fully confirmed as the CVR circuit breaker was not pulled after landing in Minsk. As a result, the full conversations of the flight crew, prior to the period when the aircraft was on the final short to Minsk airport, were not preserved.

As soon as the plane landed at Minsk airport, journalist Roman Protasevich, a critic and organizer of demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko, was arrested by Belarusian security agents, as was his girlfriend, Russian Sofia Sapega. Lukashenko is considered by critics to be Europe’s last dictator.

The hijacking of the aircraft by the Belarusian government was considered by several political leaders in Europe to be a case of hijacking and piracy.

According to Deutsche Welle, European Union (EU) leaders strongly condemned the arrest and diversion of the aircraft, which was flying between two EU member countries and was operated by an airline based in Ireland, which is also part of the HUH.

At a summit on Monday, the EU decided to impose sanctions on Belarus and demanded the immediate release of the detained journalist, as well as his girlfriend.

The sanctions include a ban on all Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the bloc’s 27 member states.

EU leaders also advised EU-based companies to avoid flying over Belarus, a landlocked country located between Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine.

Brussels also pledged to expand the list of sanctions in Belarus, which currently contains 88 people — including President Lukashenko — and 77 entities. This new list must be approved “as soon as possible”, asked the heads of state and government.

Representatives of Icao’s board are expected to meet on January 31 to review any further actions to be taken by the Canada-based organization.