Hearkening back to my days studying the utilitarianism (promoting the greatest good for the greatest number) of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, there is simply no way you can fault the Ryanair captain for his decision to divert to Minsk when confronted with fighter jets from the Belarusian Air Force.
Captain’s Impossible Choice In Ryanair Diversion To Belarus
Reader “Leo” left the following comment in my story yesterday on the Ryanair diversion to Minsk:
The pilot was a coward. He knew this was a political persecution and landed the plane anyway. He should be condemned.
When air traffic control from Belarus declared a bomb threat onboard, the flight crew was right to be suspicious. What? How? Why?
When it emerged that Belarus was targeting a political dissident onboard, the duplicity of the Belarusian action became even clearer. Dispatching MiG fighter jets to intimidate the jet and force it to divert to Minsk even though Vilnius was closer was an act of piracy; a government-sanctioned, government-run hijacking.
But what was the alternative? Ignore the warnings and fighter jets and risk being attacked? As low as the probability was that any of the Belarusian fighters would have opened fire, the captain was left with a decision: risk 120+ lives to (potentially) save one or simply not take that risk, making Roman Protasevich the sacrificial lamb.
As sobering as it is to think that Mr. Protasevich now faces an extended prison sentence and potentially the death penalty for having the audacity to question the regime, can you imagine if a trigger-happy top gun accidentally opened fire?
Lexington and Concord anyone? Or Sarajevo, circa June 28, 1914?
The pilot made the right call. He had a difficult choice between two bad outcomes and chose to minimize the risk rather than increase it by testing the Belarusian KGB and a dictator who has proven to roll over anyone who gets in his way.
I’ve heard a lot of hand-wringing over this story. After all, the United States would have done the same thing to Edward Snowden, right? By denying airspace to Evo Morales’ jet through to be carrying Snowden, did the Europeans (and Americans) not do the same thing?
I don’t think this is an issue of moral high ground. But I do question why many have chosen to examine this situation in a tit-for-tat way. For all the ways we can analogize or distinguish the Morales/Snowden incident, there is no defense for what happened on Sunday on FR4978.
It’s easy to try and assign blame to others, but the Ryanair captain was left with a very difficult choice. Not only do I not condemn his decision to divert to Minsk, but I applaud it…as tragic as the outcome was. Now it is up to European authorities to respond in a meaningful way.
image: Ryanair (not the actual captain of FR4978)