A day after Belarusian fighter jets forced a Ryanair 737 enroute to Vilnius to divert to Minsk so that an opposition journalist could be arrested, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called the incident hijacking and piracy.
Ryanair Boss Calls FR4978 “State-Sponsored Hijacking”
In a phone interview with Politico, O’Leary was far more blunt than a press release issued the day prior for his Irish budget carrier.
“This is a case of state-sponsored hijacking, state-sponsored piracy. Our crew did a phenomenal job to get that aircraft and almost all the passengers out of Minsk after six hours.”
“It was clear that the intent of the Belarusian authorities was to remove a journalist and his traveling companion. We believe some KGB agents were offloaded from the aircraft as well.”
Yes, in Belarus the intelligence service is still called the KGB…
Ryanair raised eyebrows yesterday by issuing a statement in which it proclaimed that nothing “nothing untoward” occurred (even though 26-year-old journalist Roman Protasevich and his companion were detained by a forced landing in Minsk):
Our FR4978 flight has landed safely in Vilnius at 19:25hrs UK time (21:25hrs local time). Here is Ryanair’s statement on today’s diversion to Minsk Airport 👇 pic.twitter.com/i0xhdpwTAF
— Ryanair Press Office (@RyanairPress) May 23, 2021
Today, O’Leary clarified those remarks by stating he was just following instructions by European Union authorities not to go into detail.
“We have to do a detailed debrief today with the NATO and EU authorities. It was extremely frightening for our crew and passengers. They were held under armed guard and had their bags searched.”
Will Ryanair flights continue to utilize Belarusian airspace? An airline spokesperson offers no clear answer:
“This is an option. It will depend on what the EU and others involved in ongoing consultations determine would be the best course of action given the circumstances.”
As of this morning, Ryanair flights continue to travel through the airspace of Belarus.
While O’Leary walked back Ryanair’s tone-deaf “nothing untoward” remarks, his airline continues to utilize Belarusian airspace as of this morning. EU leaders have also strongly condemned the move and are meeting today to jointly decide how to address the incident. Sanctions are already in place against Belarus, where strongman Alexander Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator” has been in power since 1994.
image: Ryanair / Instagram