Ryan scare | 

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary slams 'state-sponsored hijacking' after plane forced to land in Belarus

He said the incident was "very frightening" for passengers and crews, as they were held under armed guard and had their bags searched.

Michael O'Leary, CEO Ryanair

Eamon Dillon

RYANAIR boss Michael O'Leary said the forced diversion of his airline’s flight to Belarus was a "state-sponsored hijacking".

The aircraft which was en-route from Greece to Lithuania was ordered to land after claims of explosives on board.

On landing at Minsk, 26-year-old opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and a travelling companion were arrested by the authorities.

Mr O'Leary said on Newstalk Breakfast, he thinks it's the first time such an incident has happened to a European airline.

"This was a case of state-sponsored hijacking… state-sponsored piracy.”

“I can’t say much about it because the EU authorities and NATO are dealing with it at the moment.”

“We’re debriefing our crew, who did a phenomenal job to get that aircraft and almost all the passengers out of Minsk after six hours."

He said the incident was "very frightening" for passengers and crews, as they were held under armed guard and had their bags searched.

"It appears the intent of the authorities was to remove a journalist and his travelling companion… we believe there were some KGB agents offloaded at the airport as well."

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also used to the same language to describe the incident as “a hijacking” and that it required a decisive response from EU.

"If there's indecision or weakness shown by the EU here, it'll reinforce in the minds of the decision makers in Belarus that they've done the right thing here," Mr Coveney told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

"So I think the response has to be clear, tough and needs to happen quickly."

He added that any sanctions must be strong enough to "be noticed and cause concern in Minsk, because otherwise it’s a futile exercise."

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also joined the the growing chorus of international condemnation of the action by the Belarus government.

He said the US “strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Raman Protasevich in Minsk. We demand his immediate release”.

“This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenko regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including US citizens.”

“Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation,” he said.

Today's Headlines

More World News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos