The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has published a report on the emergency landing in Minsk of a Ryanair aircraft en route from Athens to Vilnius, on board of which was ex-editor-in-chief of the Next Telegram channel Roman Protasevich with his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. Corresponding document available from Novaya Gazeta.
According to the report, the indications of the Belarusian authorities about the time of receipt of the anonymous letter, due to which the landing was made, do not correspond to reality.
An e-mail about the bomb threat that caused the aircraft to land in Belarus arrived at the Minsk airport at 12:56 local time – at that moment the plane was already preparing for an emergency landing. However, Belarus submitted to ICAO a screenshot of the letter with a different time of receipt – 12:25. Given the fact that it is impossible to verify the metadata from the screenshot received, it is not possible to say that the letter was sent before the plane landed.
It follows from the document that a total of six letters were sent with the same threats – to the airports of Vilnius, Minsk, Sofia, Bucharest, Kiev and Athens. Moreover, in Athens, such a letter was discovered only on Monday: the airport service did not check mail on weekends.
At the same time, the dispatcher from Belarus indicated in the report that the email was sent to several airports around 12:30 Minsk time. However, the first threat message was received at Vilnius airport at 12:25, and in Sofia and Bucharest at 12:27 and 12:28.
The report also refers to the violation of many standard procedures by the Belarusian authorities. Passengers and crew in the event of a bomb threat were not removed from the aircraft, although this is required by all prescribed security measures. On the contrary, according to written and oral statements by the Ryanair crew, after the aircraft landed, Minsk airport employees ordered one of the crew members to remain on board to observe the search process. At the same time, the Minsk airport dispatcher said that the decision to leave one crew member on board the aircraft was made by the crew.
In addition, as noted in the report, the protocol on reporting the “RED” code was also violated, and the Belarusian authorities did not introduce the regime of the anti-terrorist operation.
Recall, on May 23, a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Vilnius landed at Minsk Airport after receiving a message about mining. On behalf of Alexander Lukashenko, a fighter jet was raised into the sky to escort a passenger plane. Lukashenka personally gave the command to land the plane.
Aboard was Roman Protasevich, founder of the opposition Telegram channel Next, with his girlfriend. They were both detained. In Belarus, Protasevich and another Nexta creator, Stepan Putilo, are listed as terrorists.
The Ministry of Transport of Belarus said that the message about the bombing of the Ryanair plane came on behalf of the Palestinian group Hamas. The agency claimed that the text of the threat, due to which the plane was landed in Minsk, looked like this:
“We Hamas soldiers demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union withdraw its support for Israel in this war. It is known that Delfi Economic Forum participants are returning home on flight 4978. A bomb has been planted on this plane. If you do not comply with our demands, the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius.” The next day, Hamas denied involvement in the “mining” of the plane.
The incident with the liner became one of the main topics of the EU summit in Brussels on May 24. As a result, sanctions were agreed upon, which include, among other things, a ban on the use of EU airspace and airports by Belarusian airlines. The EU Council also urged European airlines to avoid flights over the territory of Belarus.
On June 15, Ryanair executive director Michael O’Leary said that after the plane landed in Minsk on May 23, unidentified people boarded, demanding from the crew members on a video camera to say that they voluntarily sent the plane to Minsk instead of Vilnius.
According to him, the pilots refused to comply with this requirement.
The head of Ryanair noted that the pilot was put under “significant pressure” to land in Minsk. He called the landing and the subsequent detention of two passengers “a deliberate violation of all international aviation regulations.”