Ryanair flight FR4978 was forced to divert to Minsk after threats were made against the aircraft by Belarus.
The Boeing 737-800 of Ryanair Sun (registration SP-RSM) was operating on a scheduled flight from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania. While it passed through Belarus’ airspace the aircraft declared an emergency at 12:48 local time and then diverted to the country’s capital.
Initial reports claimed a bomb threat to be the reason for the diversion. However, a short time later it was confirmed by several sources that Belarus had forced the plane to land in Minsk. State media also reported that a Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jet was utilised.
On board the flight was Roman Protasevich, a blogger and journalist who fled the country in 2019. Agents from Belarus had tracked him down and arrested him after the flight’s involuntary landing.
The Ryanair Sun aircraft and all of its passengers and crew spent more than six hours on the ground, before finally taking off again at 20:47 local time, heading to its original destination Vilnius.
Members of the democracy movement in Belarus have voiced their support for Protasevich and demand his immediate release. Opposition politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya is asking for an investigation and sanctions against the government of Belarus. Several politicians across Europe have described the actions of the government as state terrorism.
Lithuania’s foreign minister confirms that 171 passengers were on board the Ryanair flight. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission says in a statement: “Any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences“. The International Civil Aviation Organization released a short statement, saying: “ICAO is strongly concerned by the apparent forced landing of a Ryanair flight and its passengers, which could be in contravention of the Chicago Convention“.
Jakob Wert is an aviation journalist from Germany. He built up the website IFN.news and is the Editor-In-Chief of International Flight Network.