Ryanair was forced to publish a second statement after its initial statement backfired strongly among journalists, passengers and on social media. On 23 May, Belarus forced a Ryanair flight between Athens, Greece and Vilnius, Lithuania to divert to Minsk, Belarus in order to arrest a dissident journalist and his spouse.
The initial statement of Ryanair, which announced that the flight was forced to divert to Minsk, Belarus after a “potential security threat” didn’t mention the fact that two passengers – Mr Raman Pratasevich and his travel companion – were taken off the flight upon arrival in Minsk. Initially, the Irish low-cost carrier wrote that the flight diverted to the nearest airport. On data recovered from flightradar24, that statement is incorrect as Vilnius was the closest international airport.
The press release stated that nothing untoward was found and authorities cleared the aircraft to depart again to Vilnius, Lithuania. Yet Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary today said that some employees of the Russian secret service were on board the flight that was supposed to make a forced stopover in Belarus: “It seems that the authorities intended to remove a journalist and his travelling companion. We believe that some Russian intelligence agents have also disembarked at the airport,” O’Leary said on Irish radio. He further called the action a “state-sponsored hijack“.
Europe strongly condemned the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 to Minsk and announced appropriate measures against the country.