Thursday 23 May 2024

Bomb threat on Ryanair Flight 4978


On the 23rd of May 2021 a Ryanair Flight was travelling from Athens (ATH/LGAV) to Vilnius (VNO/EYVI) and was operated by the Polish subsidiary Buzz, a Boeing 737-800 carrying 6 crew members and 126 passengers. The flight was diverted to Minsk National Airport (MSQ/UMMS) after ground authorities reported a bomb on board, whilst the aircraft was 45 nautical miles (83 km; 52 miles) south of Vilnius and 90 nautical miles (170 km; 100 miles) west of Minsk, but still in Belarusian airspace.

The Department of Aviation of Belarus claimed that an email was received in the generic mailbox info@airport... by containing the following text at 09:25 UTC (12:25 local)

"We, Hamas soldiers, demand that Israel cease fire in the Gaza Strip. We demand that the European Union abandon its support for Israel in this war. We know that the participants of Delphi Economic Forum are returning home on May 23 via flight FR4978. A bomb was planted onto this aircraft. If you don’t meet our demands the bomb will explode on May 23 over Vilnius. Allahu Akbar."

This message was sent to a total of six recipients in separate emails to the airports of Vilnius, Athens, Sofia, Bucharest, Kyiv and Minsk, with the first five sent while FR4978 was flying over Ukrainian airspace, immediately prior to entering Belarusian airspace.

According to the airline, its pilots were notified by Belarusian authorities of "a potential security threat on board" and were instructed to land the aircraft in Minsk. The aircraft had entered Belarusian airspace at 12:30, and the "bomb threat" was passed on by Belarusian air traffic control (ATC) immediately afterwards. At 12:33, air traffic control mentioned an e-mail from terrorists sent to the Minsk airport.

According to Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary, the pilots were told by Belarusian ATC that there was a bomb on board which would be detonated if the aircraft entered Lithuanian airspace, hence the need to divert to Minsk. O'Leary said that the pilots tried to seek advice from Ryanair but were lied to by Belarusian ATC, who told them company representatives were not answering the phone.

According to his press service, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko personally ordered that the flight be re-directed to Minsk with a Belarusian Air Force MiG-29 fighter escort. However, the ICAO fact-finding task force later determined the MiG-29 was tasked with communications back-up and to protect Minsk and did not approach nor escort FR4978. The Belarusian government news agency BelTA said that the pilots had asked to land in Minsk. Both Ryanair and Belarusian law enforcement said that no bombs were found on board.

The flight course of FR4978 over Belarus became unusual even before making the U-turn. Based on Flightradar24 raw data, it was noted that the aircraft did not start to descend over Belarus, even though this is usually done in preparation for landing in Vilnius.

The aircraft involved was a four-year-old Boeing 737-8AS, registered in Poland, registration SP-RSM. Serial number 44791. 
The aircraft entered service with Ryanair in on the 26th of May 2017, it was registered as EI-FZX in Ireland.
Then on the 9th of November 2019 the aircraft was transferred to Ryanair Sun as SP-RSM on the Polish aircraft registry.
On the 27th of October 2019 the aircraft was transferred to Buzz as SP-RSM.

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