UPDATED: A Ryanair flight from London to Oslo Friday afternoon ended up with a fighter jet escort and Norwegian police storming on board in a dramatic response to a bomb threat. Police quickly arrested a 51-year-old British citizen who was on the flight, but later released him.
All 142 passengers on board, meanwhile, experienced a massive emergency response to the threat. The aircraft was surrounded by police cars and vehicles from Norway’s special forces after it had landed and taxied directly to a remote area of Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen (OSL), about an hour’s drive north of the capital.
“As soon as we landed, the pilot announced that ‘this is the captain, I repeat, this is the captain. We have a security alert on board,'” one passenger told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The Ryanair flight then taxied to the end of a runway before stopping.
“It felt like we were in a movie,” the passenger and witness, who asked that his name not be used, told NRK. Two of the armed special forces officers who came on board ordered all passengers to put their hands over their heads.
“They were armed and then I heard one of them say (in Norwegian) over their communications equipment (presumably with back-up forces outside the aircraft) that ‘we’re moving forward to the suspect’s seat,'” the witness told NRK. “It was like an absurd film situation.”
Long delays for passengers
The armed troops soon came back down the aisle with a male passenger wearing a blue shirt who was taken off the flight. “He didn’t appear aggressive or upset,” the witness said, adding that he could see out the window of the aircraft that the suspect was searched “in a rather rough manner.”
All other passengers were then told to leave all their belongings on board and leave the aircraft, still with their hands over their heads. Police were waiting outside and searched all passengers, who later were led on board buses that stood waiting. They were then driven to a reception room at the airport, escorted by police the entire time.
Nearly 150 people were still being held in the reception facility Friday evening. Everyone on board the flight was given forms to fill out, in which they were asked to write down, in detail, their own descriptions of the flight: what baggage they carried, whether they noticed anything suspicious, who was sitting next to them and other details. They were served some food and drink, and at that point, there reportedly was a congenial tone between police and passengers.They were still sitting there, though, seven hours after the flight landed, and still waiting to recover their luggage and other belongings left on board.
Note found in a lavatory
NRK reported that the entire ordeal began when a Ryanair flight attendant found a written message that an explosive device had been placed on board. Whoever made the threat could have been on board the flight. NRK reported that it was the second such incident involving a Ryanair flight after travel restrictions were recently eased: according to the BBC, a Ryanair flight from Kakow to Dublin was re-directed to the Stansted airport outside London after a flight attendant found a note in a lavatory that explosives were on board.
The threat on the flight to Oslo was forwarded while the flight was airborne to police who determined that it should be taken seriously, so seriously that they also engaged the support of two Danish fighter jets (part of NATO) to escort the aircraft to Oslo. Both jets broke the sound barrier during the mission, reported the Danish defense department, and landed at OSL Gardermoen as well.
Police later reported that a search of the Ryanair flight produced no bomb. Norwegian news bureau NTB later reported that police were also investigating other suspects. “A potential assailant can still be among the passengers and police aren’t certain they have the right man,” police prosecutor Nicolas Amilien Simon of the Øst Police District told NTB, as the drama continued Friday evening.
The British man arrested underwent questioning Friday night but no charges were filed and police later confirmed that he’d been released. “There was no basis for keeping him in custody,” the Øst Police District stated in a press release. They added that their ongoing investigation into the incident was still in an early phase. It remained unclear why they had singled out the initial suspect, but police operations leader Marit Furuseth had earlier told reporters that police “had information that had tied him to the incident.”