On May 23rd Ryanair Flight FR4978 diverted to Minks shortly before landing at the planned destination of Vilnius, Lithuania. The initial reason given was a threat, probably a bomb, on board, designed to detonate overhead Vilius. This information was given by Belarus Air Traffic Control.
There is a suggestion that a Mig fighter of the Belarus air force intercepted and guided the aircraft to Minsk. On landing, an exiled opposition journalist and his girlfriend were arrested. After some time and what was called a search by Belarus authorities, the aircraft and remaining passenger were able to continue to destination; it is suggested that some other passengers, believed to be Belarusian did not continue to Vilnius.
A lot has been written about the political and legal situation and will continue to be and so I do not intend to cover that area, however, there is a discussion among pilots about the decision to obey these instructions. This event has opened up possibilities that we would not normally expect to have to consider.
An on-board threat would usually mean landing at the nearest suitable airport. Thus, the definition of suitable applies and that normally means, weather, runway length, facilities and other practical matters. In this case, given that Minsk was further away that the planned destination, normal logic says continue as planned, declare an emergency and get down fast.
Hard information is scant at present but it is suggested that a Mig fighter of Belarussian air force intercepted the Boeing 737. That would be reasonable if it was simply an escort for safety reasons but if it is to enforce a diversion that the crew did not wish to make, then it opens up a whole new discussion.
Would I have diverted? Without more detail it is impossible to say and we need to know exactly what was said to the Ryanair crew. My fist instinct would be to press on to Vilnius. It is nearer, where we want to go and in an EU country with no controversies. Getting on the ground fast would be wise.
Were the crew told that they would be shot down if they did not obey? Was the, “threat,” credible? If ATC says you have a bomb on board you would accept that at face value in any normal circumstance but it still leaves the unanswered question; why not continue to the nearest and best destination?
Most aircrew will be banned from giving press interviews unless sanctioned by the company and so it is possible that we may not hear what the Ryanair pilots have to say but it would be the crux of the matter. We need to understand what was said and what they thought.