Royal Air Force fighters intercepted a U.K.-bound Pakistan International Airlines Corp. jet and diverted it to London Stansted, the country’s designated counter-terrorism airport, where two people were arrested.
Flight PK709 from Lahore was due to land in Manchester, northern England, at 1:30 p.m. local time with 297 people on board, Manchester Airports Group spokesman John Greenway said. PIA said air traffic controllers ordered a diversion after being contacted by the jet’s pilots when the men quarreled with crew.
“Two men have been arrested on suspicion of endangerment of an aircraft,” police in Essex, where Stansted is located, said, adding that the incident is being dealt with as a “criminal offence.” The pair, British nationals aged 30 and 41, were removed under armed escort and will be interviewed by detectives, Superintendent Darrin Tomkins told reporters.
The episode comes with Britain on high alert, two days after a soldier died in an attack near an army base in London. Lee Rigby, a drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was killed by two knife-wielding men yelling the Islamic incantation “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great,” according to the BBC. They were subsequently shot by police and arrested.
Two Eurofighter Typhoons were scrambled from RAF Coningsby in eastern England to intercept the airliner, a Boeing Co. 777, and escort it to Stansted, 35 miles north of London, where it touched down at 2:15 p.m. The warplanes then returned to base.
“The crew and the rest of the passengers are safe,” Pakistan International said in a statement in Karachi. The flight will proceed to Manchester once the plane, those on board and their baggage have undergone security checks, it added.
An initial search of the Boeing found no suspicious items, Tomkins said, and the plane will undergo a more detailed forensic examination. Passengers will be debriefed at the Stansted terminal, he said.