Ryanair Bomb Threat In Belarus – ‘Western’ Media Narrative Disagrees With The Facts

31 May 2021 — Moon of Alabama

There is still a bit more to learn about the Ryanair flight 4978 from Greece to Lithuania which on May 23 diverted to Minsk after a bomb thread against the plane had been received by several regional airports.

The west has waged a media war over the case claiming that Belarus had invented the bomb threat to capture a Belorussian dissident who was on board. However it is clear that the bomb threat happened and that Belarus acted on it by the book. The quick implementation of a deceiving western narrative lets me believe that the bomb threat was initiated by those who oppose Belarus. It was probably managed by one of those British narrative managers who also wrote the books for the Skripal and Navalny Novichok dramas.

But there are few actual facts to that support the narrative. Its ‘truth’ must thus be constructed by bending the facts to fit the intended story.

An example is this Reuters report which was published on Friday:

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Belarusian air traffic control refused a request by a Ryanair pilot to contact the airline after being told of an alleged bomb threat, leaving him with no alternative but to land in Minsk, the Irish carrier said in a letter seen by Reuters.

Belarus scrambled a warplane on Sunday and used the bomb alert, which turned out to be fictitious, to divert the flight, which was en route from Greece to Lithuania. When it landed in Minsk, a dissident journalist and his girlfriend were arrested.

In a letter to the Belarus transport ministry dated May 26, Ryanair Chief Executive described previous correspondence from Belarusian officials as “false and inaccurate” and said the plane had been “unlawfully diverted under false pretences”.

“The pilot in command was left with no alternative but to divert to Minsk, when he was advised by Minsk ATC (Air Traffic Control) that there was a credible bomb threat to the aircraft, yet Minsk ATC refused to contact Ryanair, falsely claimed that Ryanair Ops would not answer the phone,” the letter said.

The bold claims are strongly misleading or false.They are not supported by facts but fit the intended narrative.

A day earlier Reuters had published what it called excerpts from the transcript of the radio traffic between the Air Traffic Controller and the airplane. There is nothing about a refused request by the Ryanair pilot to contact the airline in there.

Even in the complete transcript of the radio traffic, published by the Belorussian air authority, there is no request by the pilot to contact the airline.

Instead the pilot is asking the ATC to tell him the radio frequency for Ryanair company traffic. The ATC back office took a while to find it but after a few minutes the frequency was found and submitted to the plane:

Pilot: 09:34:49: Radar, RYR 1TZ.

ATC: RYR 1TZ.

Pilot: Could you give us frequency for (unreadable) company so that we would be able to (unreadable).

ATC: RYR 1TZ say again what frequency do you need.

Pilot: We just need to quawk with the operation of the company, if there any frequency for that (unreadable).

ATC. Do you need RYR operation frequency?

Pilot: That is correct 1TZ.

ATC: Standby please.

Pilot: 09:39:30: RYR 1TZ Any adverts?

ATC: RYR 1TZ Standby, waiting for the information.

ATC: 09.42.49: RYR 1TZ we have ground stuff frequency for Vilnius 131.750

Pilot. 131.75 and we have contact…(unreadable).

The above passages are not in the Reuters transcript excerpts.

The Lithuanian police questioned the pilot after the plane had reached Vilnius, its regular destination:

Those questioned include the captain of the aircraft who “made the decision

[to change course to Minsk] after consulting Ryanair’s management“, according to [Rolandas Kiškis, head of the Criminal Police Bureau].

The ATC did not refuse any pilot request. Reuters is completely wrong in that. The ATC helped the pilot when he needed the frequency. The pilot then talked with his airline management and four minutes later decided to divert to Minsk.

The “alleged bomb threat” was of course a real one even when it later turned out that there was no bomb on the plane. The bomb threat was not invented but received by multiple parties including in Lithuanisa. All bomb threats against airplanes are taken seriously as they should be. There were more than 100 lives at risk.

But that the threat indeed existed at that time does not fit the Reuters narrative.

Now to the “scrambled a warplane … to divert the flight” part which is also a lie. There was no warplane when the pilot made his decision to divert the plane.

The Ryanair flight entered the airspace of Belarus at 9:30 utc and was immediately contacted by the ATC and informed of the bomb threat. Belarus launched a warplane only after the pilot, at 9:47 utc, declared Mayday and announced his intention to divert to Minsk:

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.

“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.”

That the MIG was launched only after the Ryanair pilot had made his decision has previously also been claimed by President Lukashenko:

Belarus is accused of sending a fighter jet in order to allegedly force the passenger plane to land. Aleksandr Lukashenko dismissed the insinuations as an absolute lie. The MIG-29 was scrambled in accordance with the established procedure of the air defense forces and in order to ensure the safety of the flight. “It had to make sure that the aircraft with possible explosives on board (that was how we perceived it until we examined it) stayed on course. If something went wrong, the MIG-29 should have given the coordinates to our rescuers (helicopters first of all), who should have instantly arrived at the crash site. More importantly, this jet should have provided communication between the aircraft and the air traffic controllers if necessary. In case of any problems with landing, the jet was instructed to lead the plane to the Minsk airport runway,” the head of state said.

Aleksandr Lukashenko added that the Belarusian fighter jet was scrambled after the passenger plane decided to land in Minsk and turned towards the Belarusian capital. “They should have thanked us for that. We had to do what we did to ensure safety in the air and most importantly on the ground. We did everything we could to save people,” he stressed.

I have seen lots of claims in western media that Belarus scrambled the fighter jet to divert the plane but no timeline or detail that would support that sequence. Belarus says the fighter plane was launched because the plane decided to divert. The Belorussian version makes way more sense than the media claim. There is nothing about a military jet in the radio transcript and none of the passengers that were interviewed claimed to have seen one.

Lukashenko also said this:

In the case with the Athens-Vilnius flight a bomb threat came from abroad – from Switzerland, the president said.

The message was sent to the airports of Athens, Vilnius and Minsk simultaneously.

Belarus promptly communicated the information to the crew of the plane in accordance with international rules.

There have been reports that no threat email was received in Athens but Lukashenko does not claim that it had been received. He says the email had been sent to three addresses simultaneously and that Belarus acted after receiving it. We know from the anti-Russian Dossier Center that Lithuania received the first threat email at 12:25 local time (9:25 utc). We know that a second later email with the same bomb threat was sent to Minsk.

The Lukashenko interview was published on May 26. He says that Minsk received the 12:25 email and acted on it. On May 27 the Swiss mail provider ProtonMail, through who’s service the threat emails were sent, made the claim that Minsk did not receive the first threat email. It continues to make that claim, which makes no sense, but is unwilling to explain what it is based on.

The ProtonMail claim is feeding the intended anti-Belarus narrative. That is probably its whole purpose.

Now on to the quote from the Ryanair letter: “Minsk ATC refused to contact Ryanair, falsely claimed that Ryanair Ops would not answer the phone”.

The claim is a reference to the report on the incident published by the Aviation Department of Belarus which indeed seems to be wrong. It says:

Before this, the Minsk ACC Supervisor tried several times to call the representative office of Ryanair in Lithuania using the phone number provided by the aircraft crew, but he could not manage to contact any of the airline representatives.

There is no part in the radio transcript, which was published by the Aviation Department together with the above narrative, where the pilot provides a phone number for a Ryanair office. An air control offices should have flight operation contact numbers for all those airlines who regularly fly through its airspace on file.

The aviation administration of Belarus should clarify that point.

There are five major claims made in that one Reuters piece which are demonstratively false. They all support a false narrative. They all put Belarus into a bad light.

Meanwhile the only real information in the piece, about that Ryanair letter, turns out to be a minor error in a report. Someone had a wrong phone number? Someone was not at his desk when the phone rang? It should be easy to clear that up.


Previous Moon of Alabama post on the Ryanair incident in Belarus:

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