MOSCOW, May 30. /TASS/. Pilots of the Ryanair flight that made an emergency landing in Belarus after a bomb threat could have landed in Vilnius but opted to fly to Minsk, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey said in an interview with the Kommersant daily on Sunday.
"If the crew had opted to land in Vilnius, they could have easily cross the border and land in Vilnius. But they took a different decision and a fighter jet was scrambled after that to escort the plane," he said.
He rejected allegations that a message with the bomb threat had been received after the crew had been warned by air traffic controllers and that the Belarusian fighter jet had forced the Ryanair flight to land in Minsk.
"A couple of days ago, the aviation department chief reported about the chronology of the incident, including when the message was received, when air traffic controllers warned the crew," Makey said. "First, a bomb threat was received and then air traffic controllers warned the crew. As was already said, it took 14 minutes for the crew to take a decision. They were holding talks both with the Ryanair executives and with the Vilnius airport. Notably, our military say that no fighter jet was in the air at that moment."
According to the Belarusian top diplomat, the country’s authorities did not know that Roman Protasevich, one of the co-founders of the Nexta Telegram channel, which was recognized as extremist in Belarus, and his Russian girlfriend Sofia Sapega were among the passengers. "These two persons were detained after they had passed through customs and border control to board the plane after it had been checked. So, there are no links between these events. I think that we see deliberate attempts to link these things to the plane’s landing after a bomb threat," he stressed.
He rejected allegations that the plane’s landing had been organized by the Belarusian authorities to detain Protasevich. "I learned about the plane’s landing and the detention of these persons from the news," the minister noted. "Many officials, those who are in a position to know about such things, knew about the bomb threats but the detention was reported in the evening. Initially, we had no information about it."
A passenger jet belonging to Ryanair, an Irish low-cost airline, performing a flight from Athens to Vilnius on May 23 made an emergency landing at Minsk International Airport after a bomb threat on board the plane had been reported. The plane was escorted to Minsk airport by a MiG-29 fighter jet and landed safely. Upon inspection, no bomb was found. Protasevich was among the passengers. Protasevich, currently living in Lithuania and wanted in Belarus, and Sapega were detained after the airliner had landed in the Belarusian capital. The plane left Minsk and continued to Vilnius later the same day.