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Ryanair says Belarus wrongly forced plane to land

June 15, 2021

Michael O'Leary, the budget airline's CEO, said Belarus falsely claimed there was "a bomb on board" a Ryanair flight in order to detain a dissident journalist, adding that air traffic control in Minsk lied to the pilot.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary
Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary spoke before a British Parliament select committeeImage: Nick Ansell/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

Belarus broke "all international aviation rules" after it falsely claimed there was "a bomb on board" a Ryanair flight in order to detain a dissident journalist, the airline's CEO told British lawmakers on Tuesday.

The pilot of a Ryanair flight that was diverted to Belarus on May 23 leading to the arrest of Raman Pratasevich, had no choice but to land the plane in Minsk, Michael O'Leary told a parliamentary committee.

The scheduled flight from Greece to Lithuania altered its course and landed in the Belarusian capital, after Minsk air traffic control warned the flight crew of a "credible threat" to security as there was "a bomb on board" that "would be detonated," O'Leary said.

False claims from air traffic control 

The captain had repeatedly asked to communicate with Ryanair's operations control center, but Minsk air traffic control told him — falsely — that "Ryanair weren't answering the phone," O'Leary added.

"This was clearly a premeditated breach of all the international aviation rules, regulations, safety," O'Leary said. He said the pilot was put under "considerable pressure" to land in Belarus instead of the more standard options of Poland or other Baltic countries.

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"He wasn't instructed to do so, but he wasn't left with any great alternatives," the airline's CEO told members of the committee.

After the plane landed, several "unidentified persons" entered the aircraft with video cameras, according to O'Leary.

They "repeatedly attempted to get the crew to confirm on video that they had voluntarily diverted to Minsk," O'Leary continued. However, he said the air crew did not give such confirmation.

Outrage following 'hijacking'

Western nations have described the forced landing a "hijacking" by Belarus.

EU leaders swiftly slapped sanctions on the country, including banning Belarusian airlines from using the airspace of the bloc while informing European airlines to avoid Belarus. British authorities enforced similar measures.

O'Leary said he did not support continuing such flight bans in the long term.

"We cannot have a situation whereby airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens run the risk of being hijacked and diverted under false pretenses," he said. "But equally, far more UK citizens will be disrupted as a result of long-haul flights between the U.K. and Asia, for example, now having to fly around Belarus or avoiding Belarusian airspace."

jsi/wmr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)