Fighter jets of the Royal Air Force escorted the re-route of a Pakistan International Airlines’ passenger plane destined for Manchester Airport in the U.K., according to Sky News.
The airline confirmed the diversion of the plane with 297 passengers was for security reasons. The plane was re-routed near York toward the North Sea and traveled south to Stansted, Sky News reported. It was confirmed that the aircraft landed at Stansted Airport, where two men were arrested on suspicion that they would have endangered the aircraft.
The plane, flight PK709, had departed from Lahore, Pakistan, Friday morning.
“An incident has occurred on an aircraft. Police and partners are responding,” Essex police spokeswoman said, according to Sky News.
The diversion of the flight occurred just 10 minutes before the plane was due to land at its original destination, according to Channel 4 News, which also noted that the same plane and flight plan was diverted to Stansted on Sept. 7, 2011, after a bomb scare.
“Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby were launched today to investigate an incident involving a civilian aircraft within UK airspace; further details will be provided when known,” NBC News reported defense officials saying.
Philip Baum with Aviation International called the incident “significant” to BBC but noted the RAF planes scrambling to intercept was not an unusual occurrence.
“We don’t know what the incident was: fighter jets are scrambled when there is a bomb threat, when there is a hijack, when the wrong transponder code is used or if an aircraft cannot communicate with the ground. Often the result is when there is an unruly passenger on board,” Baum told BBC. “What is interesting in this case is that it would appear that the aircraft was only 10 minutes from landing – these are initial reports coming in – when they decided to divert to Stansted. So to actually change a destination 10 minutes from landing would certainly imply that there was some serious incident taking place.”
Sky News reported its security sources saying it does not appear at this time that the plane was the target of a terrorist attack though. The aircraft is currently isolated but the rest of the airport is operating normally.
Update: Passenger Nauman Rizvi told Pakistan’s GEO TV that two men who had tried to move toward the cockpit during the flight were handcuffed and arrested once the plane landed. Rizvi said that after the men were taken away, the flight crew told passengers there had been a threat and that the pilot had raised an alarm.
As the police investigation continued on the ground, no suspicious items were found on the plane, but “this incident is being treated as a criminal offense,” the police statement said, which is an indication it was not being seen as a terror case.
This is a developing story. We will continue to update it as more information becomes available.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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