The air traffic controller who told the pilots of a Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk airport in Belarus as part of an elaborate plan involving a fake bomb threat so that a dissident Belarusian journalist could be renditioned has reportedly gone missing.
Oleg Galegov who was the air traffic controller who convinced the Ryanair pilots to divert to Minsk despite the fact that they were closer to Vilnius in Lithuania hasn’t been seen since last month according to reports in The Mirror.
Colleagues quoted by an opposition news outlet claim Galegov has fled to his native Georgia rather than being detained by the Belarusian regime. Both Galegov and his girlfriend haven’t been seen in weeks and their social media accounts have been taken offline.
Ryanair described the plot to arrest wanted Belarusian blogger Raman Pratasevich as “an act of aviation piracy” and chief executive Michael O’Leary told reporters the May 23 incident “was a case of state-sponsored hijacking”.
In an air traffic control recording obtained by various news outlets, Galegov allegedly told the pilots of Ryanair flight FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius that a bomb threat had been made against the aircraft. The threat came in the form of an email that was sent after Galegov had already told the pilots about it.
The pilots initially didn’t want to divert but eventually conceded to Galegov’s advice to land the plane in Minsk. Once on the ground, security forces detained Pratasevich in an act that has been condemned by the West and led to the toughest sanctions ever imposed on the regime by Europe.
European and British airlines are still banned from flying over Belarus while US carriers have been advised to avoid Belarusian airspace.
Belarus insists that it was acting on a genuine threat and the pilots of Ryanair flight FR4978 were put under no pressure despite the fact that a MiG29 fighter jet intercepted the Boeing 737.
Galegov apparently went on holiday in June and hasn’t returned to work since. His knowledge of what happened on May 23 may prove incredibly valuable to Western intelligence agencies who are building a case against Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.