This morning, Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens, Greece, to Vilnius, Lithuania, (Boeing 737-800 registered SP-RSM with Buzz) squawked 7700 (emergency) shortly before reaching the border between Belarus and Lithuania, as reported in our forum.
Strangely enough, the plane did not continue to Vilnius, which was close by, but diverted to Minsk further away, raising questions among our readers: weather in Vilnius, other problems?
The social media quickly revealed another story: a Mig-29 from the Belarussian Air Force accompanied the Ryanair aircraft to Minsk Airport.
On Twitter, Media Solidarity Belarus, an opposition website, published the following thread:
What is known so far about #FR4978 emergency landing?
1. It was close to the Lithuania border when someone informed about ‘explosive’.
2. Belarus authorities sent a Mig-29 fighter jet to intercept the plane and to force landing in Minsk.
3. Former editor of opposition Telegram platform NEXTA was on board.
4. Before the flight, Raman Pratasevich (ex NEXTA) wrote to his friend someone showed a suspicious interest in him at the registration in Athens airport.
5. A Russian-speaking man presumably attempted making a pic of Pratasevich’s passport, then left the queue abruptly.
6. Currently Raman Pratasevich works as an editor-in-chief of Belarus Golovnogo Mozga web resource which is considered ‘extremist’ by authorities.
7. After a document check in Minsk, he was detained.
8. Belarus authorities: Mig-29 will accompany #FR4978 to the border.
9. Ex-presidential hopeful Svetlana Tsihanovskaya condemns the emergency landing of Ryanair #FR4978 as an act of endangering people’s lives for the sake of retaliation against the independent editor.
10. Euroradio reports that Belarus police confirm the arrest of Pratasevich.
11. There is still doubt whether the information about the bomb was there or the pilots used the code having to react to fighter jets sent by Belarus authorities
12. Pratasevich is not facing the death penalty in Belarus despite initial reports but is threatened by a jail term.
13. The information about the Mig-29 fighter jet comes from the press pool of Belarus president Lukashenko. They claim pilots ‘asked for help’ and that ‘sometimes one needs a dictator to protect the lives of people in Europe’.
14. Raman Pratasevich has been both an activist and journalist since high school. In 2020, he joined NEXTA leading live coverage of mass protests in Belarus, which he left to become editor of Belamova. He had to hide abroad due to ‘extremism’ charges in Belarus.
15. Initial version from the Lithuania side was that the plane had to turn to Minsk due to the “conflict between one passenger and the crew”. Earlier, Pratasevich reported ‘strange interest’ to him from one of the fellow passengers in the registration line in Athens.
16. Euroradio quotes a passenger saying they were told to ‘sit and wait’ and no one informed about the possible explosive.
17. Press service of Minsk National airport confirms to Euroradio ‘the message about the explosive was hoax’. Time of departure of #FR4978 still unknown.
If the above information is confirmed, this diversion should be considered as an act of air piracy (although a country has the right to intercept flights above its territory).
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. We look forward to more information being officially confirmed by the countries and operators concerned.
What is known so far about #FR4978 emergency landing. 1. It was close to #Lithuania border when someone informed about 'explosive'.
2. #Belarus authorities sent Mig-29 fighter jet to intercept the plane and force landing in #Minsk.
3. Former editor of @nexta_tv was on board
— Media Solidarity (@MediaSOL_BY) May 23, 2021
According to reports in media a Belarus journalist, that was onboard the flight, was arrested after the diversion to Minsk. pic.twitter.com/MQyvXsDExM
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 23, 2021
From the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs (thus there was one Belgian onboard):
In total there was 171 passenger on flight. We have information about 149 passengers. Among them – 1 AT, 1 BE, 1 BG, 1 CY, 3 DE, 1 ESP, 9 FRA, 1 GEO, 11 GR , 94 LT, 2 LV, 4 PL, 5 RO, 4BY, 3 RF, 1 GEO, 2 SYR, 1 NGA citizens. All 171 need to be released immediately.
— Gabrielius Landsbergis (@GLandsbergis) May 23, 2021
Can you imagine? They hijack your plane by starting a fight and faking a bomb threat. They force your plane to land in authoritarian state. And when you're there they treat YOU as the potential terrorist, letting bomb sniffing dogs go through your baggage.
— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) May 23, 2021