Ryanair CEO reveals what really happened on the hijacked Belarus flight

The pilot of a Ryanair flight that was diverted to Belarus last month and arrested a Belarusian journalist has no choice but to land the plane in Minsk, the low-cost airline’s boss said on Tuesday.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary appeared before a British parliamentary committee to discuss the diversion on the 23rd. The scheduled flight from Greece to Lithuania changed course and landed in the Belarusian capital. Journalist and political activist Roman Pratasevich, who was a passenger on the plane, was arrested with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega.

Mr O’Leary told British politicians that Minsk air traffic control warned the flight crew of a “credible threat” that if the aircraft entered Lithuanian airspace, “a bomb would be detonated on board”.

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The captain repeatedly asked to communicate with Ryanair’s operations center, but Minsk air traffic officers told him – incorrectly – that “Ryanair didn’t answer the phone,” O’Leary said.

“This was clearly a deliberate violation of all international air traffic rules, regulations and safety,” he said.

Mr O’Leary said the pilot was under “significant pressure” to land in Belarus rather than the standard options of Poland or other Baltic countries.

“He was not instructed to do so, but he had no great alternatives,” he told members of the parliamentary committee.

After the plane was on the ground, according to O’Leary, several “unidentified people” boarded the plane with video cameras.

They “tried repeatedly to get the crew to confirm by video that they were voluntarily diverted to Minsk,” said the Ryanair manager. The crew refused to give such confirmation, he said.

Western countries have described the forced diversion as a brazen “kidnapping” by Belarus. Outraged heads of state and government of the European Union immediately imposed sanctions on the country, including banning Belarusian airlines from using the airspace and airports of the 27-nation bloc and calling on European airlines to bypass Belarus. The UK authorities have taken similar action.

Mr O’Leary said he did not support the continuation of such flight bans in the long term.

“We cannot have a situation where airlines, air travel, our customers and our citizens are at risk of being kidnapped and rerouted under false pretenses,” he said.

“But far more British citizens are disturbed by long-haul flights between Great Britain and Asia, as they now have to fly around Belarus or avoid Belarusian airspace.”

This article originally appeared on the New Zealand Herald and has been reproduced with permission

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