Ryanair pilots questioned the request to land, the broadcast was announced by Belarusian broadcasts

A pilot on a Ryanair plane forced to land in Belarus over the weekend repeatedly questioned air traffic controllers about their request to transfer the plane to Minsk over the alleged threat of a bomb.

The transcript was not independently verified. Several pilots and security experts asked to review The Wall Street Journal’s accounts said it seemed real, based on the terminology inherent in such conversations and back and forth. Some said that Ryanair pilots, having repeatedly asked for clarification at the airport where they were asked to land, seemed surprised by the request to depart for Minsk.

“They were really hesitant,” said Ben Berman, a retired U.S. airline captain and former accident investigator who is now an airline safety consultant. “They didn’t just accept the ombudsman’s statement.”

Dublin-based Ryanair Holdings PLC declined to comment.

Belarus has announced an interview in support of the country’s version of the unusual incident. The government of President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he had received a warning that a plane had been bombed in Belarusian airspace at the time; reported to the pilots of the aircraft; advised to move to Minsk; and crashed with a jet fighter to escort him there.

Belarusian authorities detained opposition activist Roman Protasevičius on a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania after directing the plane to Minsk. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called the incident “a state-sponsored hijacking”, which further heightened the global aviation industry’s concerns about the deviation. Photo: Onliner.by/AFP/Getty Images

On the ground, Belarusian officials arrested a prominent dissident journalist who flew in a Boeing Co. plane. 737-800 ”, flying from Athens to Vilnius. When the plane turned towards Minsk, it was closer to Vilnius, raising questions as to why it would fly extra miles in such an extreme case.

European officials have called the bomb threat unbelievable, and the European Union has restricted its carriers from flying over Belarus. European and U.S. officials condemned the detour as a brazen interference in commercial aviation and called for an investigation. Air industry and aviation safety officials say if the threat of the bomb was falsified, it is a dangerous precedent that could undermine trust between commercial airlines and the countries through which they fly.

Belarus said it had acted in accordance with international protocols after receiving a correspondent from the Hamas militant group operating the Gaza Strip that a bomb on board had been detonated over Vilnius. Hamas did not respond to requests for comment.

The Belarusian Air Force said the jet fighter was sent only when the plane turned and was not intended to intimidate the pilots.

The transcript, published in Belarus, is full of radio and cab jargon and ellipses, and several parts have been rewritten as inaudible. But it also usually depicts a cockpit crew calmly responding to air traffic controllers ’information about the bomb and asking a lot of questions about that information. The pilot asked to hear how the threat of the bomb was reported to the Minsk controllers, such as the seriousness of the threat and whether the aircraft could be repaired at Ryanair’s operational headquarters. It is not clear from the bill whether Belarus has announced whether the plane has been able to communicate with Ryanair.

After reporting the explosion, air traffic controllers recommended that the plane turn around and land at Minsk National Airport.

“For security reasons, we ask you to land at UMMS,” one international call from Minsk Airport and Belarus air traffic control told the pilots. The pilot acknowledged this, but asked to be given an alternative.

A few minutes later, a Ryanair pilot asked the ground control to revise the recommended airport, asking for another call sign assigned by the International Air Transport Association or IATA. The controllers responded to the Minsk IATA code MSQ.

The pilot asked the controller to repeat this. The pilot then asked, “Again, this recommendation to go to Minsk, where did it come from? according to the transcript. “Where did he come from? The company? Did it come from the airport of departure or the authorities of the airport of arrival? “

“This is our recommendation,” the Belarusian ombudsman replied.

“Say it again,” the pilot asked.

“This is our recommendation,” the manager reiterated, asking the pilot twice for advice on re-routing. Asked about the severity of the bomb threat, the pilot replied that the plane was declaring a state of emergency and would turn to Minsk.

“Our intentions would be directed to Minsk airport,” the pilot said.

The Belarusian aviation authority says it has tried to contact Ryanair’s representative office in Lithuania at the phone number provided by the crew, but says they have failed to take over the company.

Write Benjamin Katz at [email protected] and Ann M. Simmons at [email protected]

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