2021.05.24 17:14

Lithuanian police question pilot who diverted to Minsk ‘after consulting Ryanair’

BNS2021.05.24 17:14

Lithuanian officers have questioned the pilot and several other people who were onboard the Ryanair flight, which was forcibly diverted to Minsk on Sunday in order to arrest a dissident and his partner.

"We've already questioned several dozen people who were aboard the flight, including crew members," Rolandas Kiškis, head of the Criminal Police Bureau, told reporters on Monday. "The plane is currently being inspected at the airport, which may take until the evening,"

Those questioned include the captain of the aircraft who "made the decision [to change course to Minsk] after consulting Ryanair's management", according to Kiskis.

Read more: Ryanair: Belarus’ air traffic control diverted plane to Minsk due to ‘security threat’

A total of 126 passengers were aboard the flight from Athens, but only 121 of them arrived in Vilnius after the forced landing to Minsk, he said.

Read more: Baltic leaders condemn ‘state-backed terror attack’ by Minsk regime

Lithuania’s officials previously said that 171 passengers were onboard.

Deputy Prosecutor General Gintas Ivanauskas added that publicly available information about the incident is close to what actually happened.

"We can't say that the information circulating in the public fully corresponds to what is being established during the investigation, but to a large extent, it does," he told reporters.

An investigation of this scale is likely to take quite a long time, according to the prosecutor.

Read more: Lithuanian prosecutors launch probe into ‘aircraft hijacking’ by Belarusian regime

Five passengers of diverted Ryanair flight didn't arrive in Vilnius

A total of 126 passengers boarded the flight in the Greek capital, but only 121 of them came to Vilnius, the Lithuanian government said on Monday.

Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian opposition activist, blogger and co-founder of the Telegram channel Nexta, and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega, a Russian citizen who is a student of Vilnius-based European Humanities University (EHU), were arrested when they disembarked from the plane in Minsk.

Sources have told BNS that another two of the five people who stayed behind in Minsk are Belarusian citizens. The authorities have not disclosed yet if they have any link to the incident.

When asked if all passengers had been identified, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said at a news conference on Monday that she could not answer the question because of an ongoing pre-trial investigation into the incident.

"I can only say that all Lithuanian citizens have safely returned to Lithuania,” she said.

It is not clear yet either if people who were aboard the flight may claim compensation, according to the prime minister.

The Ryanair flight, scheduled to arrive in Vilnius at 13:00 on Sunday, was forced to change course just before crossing into Lithuanian airspace.

According to the Irish airline, the flight made an emergency landing in Minsk after being notified by Belarus' air traffic controllers of "a potential security threat on board", but "nothing untoward" was found.

Asta Skaisgirytė, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda's chief foreign policy adviser, said on Sunday that Belarus had scrambled two military aircraft – a MiG-29 fighter jet and a Mi-24 helicopter – to divert the civil passenger plane to Minsk.

The flight returned from Minsk to Vilnius on Sunday evening.

The incident has been condemned by leaders of NATO, the European Commission and some EU member states.

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