The ICAO has released a report into the diversion of a Ryanair flight in 2021 that landed in Minsk after a reported bomb threat. The report condemns Belarus for faking the bomb threat as part of a clandestine plan to arrest certain passengers aboard the plane. The investigation reveals many holes in the official version of the story, highlighting several examples of corruption.
Circumstances of Ryanair Diversion Prompt ICAO Investigation
Ryanair flight FR4978 was scheduled to fly from Athens to Vilnius on 23 May 2021 but was instructed to land in Minsk by Belarussian ATC following an alleged bomb threat. Upon landing, Belarussian opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega were arrested by KGB agents, leading some to question whether the bomb threat was merely a ploy by the Belarussian government, so they could detain the passengers.
The incident prompted the ICAO to conduct an investigation that would uncover the truth of the events. The body established a special fact-finding team to look into the accusations, consisting of experts in the fields of aviation security, aircraft operations, air navigation and international air law.
Investigation Finds Belarus Culpable
The report finds that the bomb threat was deliberately fabricated by the Belarussian Government, used as a means of diverting the plane to arrest political dissenters.
Significant holes were found in the version of events presented by Belarussian officials. Perhaps the most damning was that the email calling in the bomb threat was sent after the flight had already been diverted.
Additionally, the correct procedure for a bomb threat would not have diverted the flight to Minsk. However traffic controllers deliberately obscured the details of the threat, giving the pilots the risk assessment code that permitted diversion.
Attempts to Obscure Evidence
According to the report, the area surveillance control Duty Supervisor was approached by the head of air navigation along with an unidentified man presumed to be a KGB officer. The men informed him that there was a bomb aboard the Ryanair flight, which was to be diverted to Minsk.
They also informed him that the information was not to be shared with anyone, and that recordings of the ATC communications would be destroyed. Despite this, the Duty Supervisor used his smartphone to take recordings of the communications, which ICAO investigators later used in their inquiry.
The ICAO condemn Belarus for its actions, stating that the diversion of the flight goes against the spirit of the Chicago convention. However, Belarussian authority figures have denied the accusations made in the report, calling it “a fabrication”. The full report can be found on the ICAO’s website, published in six languages.
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