Two held after U.K. jets escort Pakistan plane

AFP-JIJI, Bloomberg

Two men arrested on a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane after fighter jets were scrambled to escort it to a London airport remained in custody Saturday for questioning by the police.

The men were detained on suspicion of endangering an aircraft after the plane, which was carrying 300 passengers from the Pakistani city of Lahore to Manchester, northwest England, was diverted to Stansted Airport outside London.

Armed police officers boarded the Boeing 777 and arrested two British men aged 30 and 41.

The incident was not believed to be terrorism-related. An airline source said the incident had stemmed from a family row on board.

“There was a family of eight to 10 people on the plane and they were quarrelling among each other,” the PIA source said.

“When PIA staff approached them and asked them to calm down, they told them to go away otherwise they would blow up the plane.

“PIA staff became scared and they raised the alarm to avoid any untoward situation.”

“The crew and the rest of the passengers are safe,” Pakistan International Airlines said in a statement issued in Karachi. The flight was to proceed to Manchester once the plane, those on board and their baggage have undergone security checks, it added.

Police said they were alerted 10 minutes before the plane was due to land in Manchester at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

They were told a threat had been made to the safety of an aircraft.

Fighter jets were scrambled to escort Flight PK709 into Stansted, London’s third-biggest airport, where it touched down at 2:15 p.m.

It halted in a designated safe location away from the terminal building.

The arrested men were taken to a police station “where they will remain in custody pending interviews by detectives,” a spokesperson for the local Essex police force said.

The remaining passengers disembarked under police escort and were taken to the terminal building for a debriefing.

“The plane will remain at its current location and will be subject to forensic examination by specialist officers,” the police said.

“At this point in time no suspicious items have been recovered.

“This incident is being treated as a criminal offense.”

A Ministry of Defense spokesman said that Typhoon fighter jets had been launched from a Royal Air Force base after the incident was signalled by the plane’s crew.

“Typhoon aircraft from RAF Coningsby have been launched to investigate an incident involving an aircraft in U.K. airspace,” the MoD spokesman said.

Typhoons can be scrambled if the pilot or crew of a passenger aircraft sends out a passenger signal, he added.

“The purpose of going up is to investigate what the situation is,” he said.

“Often when a Quick Reaction Alert aircraft is launched the details are not known, but it is known that a signal has been sent.”

Typhoons patrolled over London last year when the capital hosted the 2012 Olympic Games.

By a strange coincidence, the PIA plane that was diverted to Stansted was the very same plane on the very same route — Lahore to Manchester — that landed at Stansted in September 2011 following a bomb scare.