How a Ryanair flight with a dissident on board was diverted to Minsk
“We now have info from particular companies that you’ve got bomb on board,” was the chilling message to the pilots of a Ryanair airplane flying from Athens to the Lithuanian capital.
“The bomb may be activated over Vilnius”.
With little info to behave on past an assurance that it was the very best stage of bomb risk, the pilots of FR4978 diverted to Minsk.
But when the airplane arrived, there was no sense of urgency. An “emergency evacuation” of the airplane took 50 minutes – regardless of the crew urging that each one the passengers ought to disembark as rapidly as attainable.
The failure to get passengers and crew swiftly off an plane that was thought to have a bomb on board is considered one of many mysteries revealed within the official report on the incident.
On 23 Could 2021, a Boeing 737 was on a routine Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius. One of many passengers on board was a Belarusian dissident, Roman Protasevich.
The flight path took the airplane over Greek, Bulgarian, Romanian and Ukrainian airspace with out incident.
Simply 24 seconds after the plane entered Belarusian airspace, although, the pilots had been warned by air-traffic controllers of a bomb risk.
A brand new report by the Worldwide Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) traces the sequence of occasions that led to the airplane touchdown at Minsk airport – the place Mr Protasevich was arrested, alongside along with his girlfriend.
Bomb threats in opposition to civilian plane are removed from uncommon, and are nearly all the time false.
As quickly because the controller handed on the risk, the plane captain requested: “The place did it come from? The place did you may have details about it from?”
The controller replied: “The airport safety workers knowledgeable they acquired e mail.”
Captain: “Vilnius airport safety workers or from Greece?
Controller: “This e mail was shared to a number of airports.”
The query of how controllers knew of the e-mail’s existence is considered one of many that’s left unanswered by the Belarusian authorities.
“It couldn’t be established how the controller knew that emails had been shared with a number of airports,” the report says.
ICAO investigators obtained particulars of the e-mail account that was used to make the risk.
In line with the Division of Aviation of Belarus, inside 5 minutes of the primary e mail being despatched, air-traffic controllers had been conscious of the risk having been despatched to a number of airports in japanese Europe.
The Belarusian authorities declare Minsk airport acquired the primary threatening e mail at 9.25am GMT. Investigators have detected no hint of it having been despatched till 9.56am, by which stage the diversion was in progress.
Different emails had been despatched to airports in Vilnius, Athens, Sofia, Bucharest and Kiev. These to the Greek and Ukrainian airports had been by no means acquired, whereas the rest had been solely situated days later.
The e-mail learn: “We, Hamas troopers, demand that Israel stop hearth within the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its help for Israel on this conflict.
“We all know that the individuals of Delphi Financial Discussion board are returning dwelling on 23 Could through flight FR4978. A bomb was planted onto this plane.
“In case you don’t meet our calls for the bomb will explode on 23 Could over Vilnius. Allahu Akbar.”
The e-mail account was created 9 days earlier than the incident, utilizing an web protocol (IP) handle that The Impartial has traced to a supplier in Stockholm.
The Belarusian authorities have produced a screenshot of the e-mail they are saying they acquired, however not the unique. They’ve declined to say how the safety companies turned conscious of a number of emails having been despatched to a number of airports, when these airports had been unaware of them.
Because the airplane continued on its deliberate northbound course, the air-traffic controller really helpful that the airplane ought to divert to Minsk for “safety causes”, regardless that Vilnius – the meant vacation spot – and different airports had been nearer.
The captain requested: “This suggestion to divert to Minsk – the place did it come from? Firm [ie Ryanair]? Did it come from departure airport authorities or arrival airport authorities?”
The controller replied: “That is our suggestion.”
Bomb threats in opposition to plane are color coded based on their assessed credibility.
Inexperienced: “No credible risk exists. Diversion not required. Proceed to vacation spot as deliberate.”
Amber: “Credibility unsure. The flight will proceed to the deliberate vacation spot or divert to an appropriate alternate.”
Crimson: “There’s a credible risk and the PIC [pilot in command] ought to land on the nearest appropriate airport as directed by ATC [air-traffic control] or the nationwide authorities.”
Usually, Ryanair’s operational management centre in Dublin would assess the credibility of the risk. However regardless that the cellphone quantity was included within the flight plan, Minsk air-traffic management didn’t alert the airline and the pilots had been unable to make radio contact.
The plain plan of action was to proceed the flight to the meant vacation spot, Vilnius, simply 60 miles north. However the pilots had been urged to divert to Minsk – greater than twice as far-off.
“Ryanair one-tango-zulu, they are saying code is pink,” the air-traffic controller stated.
The report says: “Pertinent info included within the bomb risk e mail was not handed on to the flight crew similar to that particular reference to the flight quantity FR4978 had been made, the time of receipt of the message, the recognized organisation/sender, and the explanations for placement of a bomb on board that particular flight.”
A “autopsy safety risk threat evaluation” carried out by Ryanair officers “decided that the risk color code wouldn’t have been pink”.
Within the absence of any additional info, although, the pilots agreed to divert to Minsk – regardless that the one declared alternate airport for the flight was Riga in Latvia. Flight FR4978 turned east to Minsk shortly earlier than it reached the Lithuanian border.
The Belarus Civil Aviation Authority insists: “The pilot-in-command took his personal choice to land at Nationwide Airport Minsk with none strain from Belarusian facet.”
The captain made a passengers’ announcement (PA) telling the passengers of the diversion to Minsk. On listening to the information, Mr Protasevich reacted with horror. The report says: “Instantly after the PA, one of many passengers, stood up and shouted to one of many cabin crew that he couldn’t land in Minsk as ‘I’m needed there, they’ll kill me’.
“The passenger was not thought of unruly or disruptive.”
Fifty-four minutes after the incident started, the airplane arrived at Minsk and parked at stand #1. It was 10.24am GMT. No terrorist incident was declared.
The crew had been eager for everybody to be evacuated as rapidly as attainable, given the excessive risk alert. However, says the report: “The Minsk Airport Management Dispatcher defined that airport procedures take priority, and passengers will solely be permitted to disembark in teams of 5.” The dispatcher defined that passengers and their cabin baggage needed to be screened by explosive detection canine, which may solely happen in small teams.
This particular person later claimed that cabin crew had requested for this to occur.
Passengers began getting off at 10.38am and completed at 11.14am – 50 minutes after the plane had arrived.
Worldwide aviation guidelines state: “If an plane lands following receipt of a bomb risk that has been assessed as amber or pink, provision needs to be made to disembark passengers and crew with a minimal of delay, with their cabin baggage when circumstances allow.”
The bags maintain was opened 36 minutes after arrival, with explosive detection canine entering into 5 minutes later.
The captain remained on board whereas a Ministry of Inside Affairs plane search specialist group searched the airplane. He later reported: “The search group was not thorough and omitted areas that might be lined below regular procedures.”
Seven hours after the primary message, the passengers had been allowed to board.
The report says: “As soon as boarding of passengers was accomplished, cabin crew conduct a headcount of passengers and set up that 5 passengers are lacking.
“No rationalization was supplied to the Ryanair crew by the Minsk airport floor workers.”
The ICAO report states the claims made by Belarus officers, that “5 passengers wished to stay in Minsk” and “all 5 passengers crossed the border unescorted, on their very own initiative”.
Two of the lacking passengers had been the dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. They’d been arrested by the authorities. CCTV footage of the disembarkation was not made out there, with officers claiming the related elements had been overwritten.
A 3rd passenger is believed to have been a Greek passenger whose ultimate vacation spot was Minsk and was merely profiting from the diversion.
Ryanair’s chief government, Michael O’Leary, stated he had little doubt in regards to the id of the opposite two: “It seems the intent of the authorities was to take away a journalist and his travelling companion. We consider there have been some KGB brokers offloaded on the airport as nicely.”
Whereas the ICAO report says it’s lacking important info from Belarus that might enable it to attract agency conclusions, Mr O’Leary stated: “This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy.”
The Ryanair boss was backed by the Worldwide Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations and the European Cockpit Affiliation.
They issued a joint assertion saying: “This unprecedented act of illegal interference will probably upend all of the assumptions in regards to the most secure response to bomb threats on flight and interceptions.”
Mr Protasevich, an implacable opponent of the Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, is believed to be below home arrest, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega faces six years’ imprisonment.