Belarus recently came under scrutiny for forcing a Ryanair plane to divert so they could capture a wanted person on board:

A Ryanair plane from Greece to Lithuania was diverted to Belarus for several hours on Sunday, with activists saying it was done to arrest a dissident journalist on board.

European nations reacted with outrage, accusing Belarus of "state terrorism".

The ex-editor of the Nexta group, Roman Protasevich, was detained before the plane was allowed to resume its flight. BBC

Is this the first time an incident like this happened?

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    I think grounded doesn't quite cover this case. Grounding a plane sounds to me like denying permission for take off. In this case, the government of Belarus intervened to force the plane to land when it flew over its territory. Not really sure what word captures that situation though. Changed it a bit, feel free to go with something else if you think it fits better.
    – JJJ
    May 23, 2021 at 23:00
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    NOTE: This question was migrated after discussion; please assist OP to revise the question to fit within our scope.
    – MCW
    May 24, 2021 at 12:58
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    Overall, nothing particularly remarkable about this incident . Every country retains sovereignty over its airspace. Unfortunately, there were incidents were passenger planes were shoot down by various militaries. KAL007, Iran Air Flight 655, MH17 etc ... Compared to those incidents, this is relatively benign .
    – rs.29
    May 25, 2021 at 7:42
  • 3
    bbc examines the same question
    – MCW
    May 26, 2021 at 0:37
  • 7
    @rs.29 just because countries have sovereignty doesn’t mean they often exercise it in this manner. Something can be legal and still remarkable.
    – Tim
    May 27, 2021 at 1:02

6 Answers 6


By Googling "Snowden"+"Ryanair Belarus" I've found four more relevant examples. One story from 2010 seems to be a direct equivalent to what happened in Belarus:

Taalaibek Turumbekov, deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan Aba Joldoru, the national airline, told RFE/RL that a plane flying from Dubai was made to land in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas on February 23, escorted by two Iranian jets.
Iranian authorities announced on February 23 that that they had seized the leader of the Sunni rebel group Jundallah, Abdolmalek Rigi, on a flight from Dubai to Bishkek.

The other is only tangentially related because the plane never left Ukraine:

MINSK, October 22 2016. Belarus has protested against Ukraine's actions to return by force on October 21 a Belavia plane to Kiev. The republic's Foreign Ministry summoned Ukraine's Charge d'Affairs in Belarus Valery Dzhigun, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Saturday.
The Belarusian company said the dispatcher told the captain "in case of disobeying the order, fighters will take off." As the plane landed at the Ukrainian airport, the local law enforcers detained a passenger, who is a citizen of Armenia. After the refueling, the plane left for Minsk and later on landed there safely. Later on, the law enforcers released the man and he took an evening flight to Minsk.

Finally, Turkey forced a Syrian plane to land in 2012 but that seems to have been motivated by military cargo rather than arresting someone on board:

Moscow has accused Ankara of endangering Russian lives after Turkey forced a Syrian passenger plane to land and seized what it suspected was military equipment being ferried from Russia to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Military jets escorted the Damascus-bound Airbus A-320,which was carrying around 30 passengers from Moscow, into Ankara airport late on Wednesday after Turkey received intelligence that it was carrying “non-civilian cargo”.

There was also a controversial story involving the interception of an Egyptian jet by the US Airforce but that involved a chartered plane rather than a scheduled flight.

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    Interestingly the US denied that the Iranian/Kyrgyzstan version of the events took place. Or at least that Iran arrested whom they claimed to have arrested on that flight. May 24, 2021 at 2:07

I'll note here that the Morales' plane story is much more complicated that it's made to be in the other answer. It was apparently a false flag operation to a good extent, misleading the Westerners as to whom was on-board; or at least Assange claimed he did that. Anyway, the Morales plane landed in Austria because its crew claimed it could not read its fuel gauges:

Control tower: Do you need any assistance?

Pilot: Not at this moment. We need to land because we cannot get a correct indication of the fuel indication so as a precaution we need to land.

Why the plane landed in Austria isn't clear, but it doesn't seem to have been at the insistence of the Austrians.

Then Morales declared outrage for being "forced" to land.

The issue whether the plane was actually denied airspace entry (and by whom) is a bit more murky. At least France clearly apologized, but Spain the plane was actually due to land for refueling (Canary Islands, actually) never made a clear statement. It is known that Portugal granted overflight some days before, but refused the request to refuel on their territory. (I'll spare you the quotes on that.) So it's not really a clear-cut situation like a jet fighter showing up and requesting the plane land.

Also the reports whether the Morales' plane was searched are fairly contradictory. An Austrian minister initially said yes, but after Bolivians denied that took place, the details came out as:

"Someone from the airport staff sought out the aircraft or the pilot after landing to inquire about the nature of the technical problem," [Austrian President Heinz] Fischer was quoted as saying.

"The Austrian official was advised that the defect was already fixed, and saw on this occasion that the plane was empty... He did not look under the seats. There was no formal inspection, but no other people were found on board," Fischer added.

Pressed on whether that meant Austrians had not searched the plane, he said, "There was no search in the forensic sense. There was also no reason to under international law. The plane of a president belongs to 'his territory' and cannot be searched readily."

N.B. Assange was aware of this too, as in the interview (first link) he said:

from a legal perspective, they are flying embassies.

On the other hand, that does not mean countries have to allow them:

Eurocontrol - which co-ordinates Europe's airspace and traffic control - said it was "a national decision whether or not to accept a state flight" under the terms of the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

But there's a [legal] difference between not allowing a flight to enter and forcing it to land.

  • 11
    This does not seem to answer the question. Did you mean to post a comment for my answer? May 24, 2021 at 0:52
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    @bytebuster: yep, because you're making a false equivalence in your answer. As far I can tell, Morales' plane could have returned to Moscow. Its crew chose to land in Austria. May 24, 2021 at 1:08
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    @Tim Yes, but then it was an emergency landing, not a plane being diverted.
    – Rekesoft
    May 24, 2021 at 9:07
  • So basically the flight of the Bolivian President was forced to land so it could be searched by foreign officers, but the culprits managed to create so much confusion as to who did what, they can all pretend it was no big deal?
    – Ivana
    May 26, 2021 at 9:26
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    @Ivana No, It was neither forced to land nor searched. May 26, 2021 at 12:25

In 2013, Bolivia president's jet heading from Moscow, Russia was rerouted and forced to land in Austria in search for Edward Snowden;

  • 6
    The wiki page you link to says something else "but was rerouted to Austria when France, Spain, Portugal and Italy reportedly denied access to their airspace, allegedly due to suspicions that Snowden was on board." There are also conflicting reports on whether the plane was searched "Austria's deputy chancellor, Michael Spindelegger, said that the plane was searched, although the Bolivian Defense Minister denied a search took place, saying Morales had denied entry to his plane.". May 24, 2021 at 0:19
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    @Fizz different method from the Belarusians but the result appears to be the same. If Snowden was on board he would've presumably been arrested. May 24, 2021 at 0:21
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    @JonathanReez: the difference is that the Morales plane landed because it could not complete its planned route with the fuel it had on board due to those airspace entry denials. Frankly it's a bit unclear why it didn't return to Moscow, as they had enough fuel for that. I've not heard an explanation for that. It seems they did land in Austria precisely so that they could claim "aggression" (as they knew Snowden was not actually on board). May 24, 2021 at 0:26
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    @Fizz, did you mean that the plane was forced to land in order to arrest, but the actual search/arrest has not occurred, even if the spy was on board? I agree, this could be true. Why have you highlighted the "reportedly denied access to their airspace" in your comment then? Is it relevant? May 24, 2021 at 0:26
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    @bytebuster Austria did not force the plane to land. The pilot requested emergency landing permission since it couldn't continue it's flight and needed to refuel. 2 compleatly different situations. May 24, 2021 at 12:35

Interception of EgyptAir jet:

  • Terrorists murdered a US citizen
  • Egypt let the terrorists fly out on a commercial (chartered) airplane
  • US intercepted the flight in international airspace and made it land in Italy
  • Italians released the mastermind but tried the terrorists (calling them "soldiers fighting for their ideals")
  • 2
    Small correction: it was a chartered plane, not a scheduled flight May 25, 2021 at 23:37
  • 2
    Also, the interception took place in international airspace. It was a chartered flight. The only other people on-board were (strangely) some Egyptian counter-terrorism agents. Also, the plane ended up over international waters because it was refused permission to land at Tunis, where it was initially headed for. May 26, 2021 at 16:36

There's an article published by the BBC today on this very topic. It quotes three of the examples listed in the accepted answer, and this one from 1956:

1956: The arrest of the leaders of the Algerian independence movement

On 22 October 1956 five leaders of the Algerian independence movement, the FLN, were on a civilian flight from Rabat in Morocco to Tunis, reports BBC Arabic's Ahmed Rouaba. They were due to take part in a conference on the future of the Maghreb region hosted by then Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba.

Algeria was a French colony at the time and the French secret service sent fighter jets to intercept the passenger plane, forcing it to land in Algeria.

The events sparked anger in Morocco and Tunisia.

The five arrested included Ahmed Ben Bella, who went on to be Algeria's first president after it gained independence from France. He died in 2012 aged 95.

The same article notably says the Evo Morales grounding incident is not directly comparable, since 1) the aircraft wasn't forced to land by military interceptors, but rather by the airspace being closed, and 2) it was a state aircraft and not a civilian one that was involved. State aircraft are not covered by the Chicago convention.

  • 3
    I was going to post this as an answer but it seems from comments that the OP is looking for an example involving a scheduled passenger flight (although that is not stated in his question). As far as I can tell, the FLN people were the only passengers on board and the plane was provided by the sultan of Morocco. See Détournement de l'avion du FLN and Arrestation des leaders du FLN. May 26, 2021 at 1:14

One instance from 1954, Syrian plane captured by Israel:

TEL AVIV, Israel, Dec. 12 -A Syrian Airways Dakota was intercepted by Israeli fighter planes this morning and escorted to Lydda Airport. Four passengers' and five crew members were detained, but one passenger, an American citizen, was released.

Second instance from 2010, involving a flight from Paris to Mexico City being forcefully diverted to Montreal:

The passenger removed from an Aeromexico flight diverted to Montreal has been sent to the U.S., Canadian and American officials say.
Abdirahman Ali Gaal was removed from the flight bound for Mexico City from Paris on Sunday at the request of U.S. officials.
The Canada Border Services Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security confirmed that he was turned over to U.S. officials at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Third instance from 2016 is related to a flight from Kiev to Minsk being grounded before it could reach the Belarus border:

A Belarusian “Belavia” aircraft, en route from Kiev to Minsk, was forced to return to the Ukrainian airport under the threat of being intercepted by military jets. The reason of the forced landing was an Armenian citizen aboard the aircraft, Obozrevatel.com reported citing the airline’s press service.

“The ground controller ordered the aircraft to immediately return to the airport after entering the airspace of Belarus 50km. No explanation was given. The ground controller reported in case of failing to fulfill the order fighter jets will be scrambled”, the statement of the airline company reads.

  • Whatever happened to Abdirahman Ali Gaal after he was sent to US? Google doesn't know. May 26, 2021 at 18:18
  • Edit the answer a bit to avoid it being a link-only answer May 26, 2021 at 22:41
  • As for Mr. Ali Gaal - latest news says he was granted parole and was allowed to return to his family in Seattle. May 26, 2021 at 22:44

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