- U.K. NEWS
- Updated May 24, 2013, 1:38 p.m. ET
LONDON—U.K. police said Friday they had arrested two people from a Pakistan International Airlines Corp. jet after British air force fighter jets escorted it to a safe landing at a London airport following what an airline official said were comments about blowing up the plane.
Authorities weren’t treating the incident as terrorist related, a British official said. The airline official said the men who were arrested later said they had been joking.
The Essex police said that as of late Friday, nothing suspicious had been found on the plane. A forensic examination of the plane was pending, however, and the suspects hadn’t yet been questioned.
A spokesman for Manchester airport said flight PK709 from Lahore in Pakistan, carrying some 300 passengers, was diverted shortly before it was due to land at Manchester in northern England early Friday afternoon. The U.K. Ministry of Defence said typhoon aircraft were dispatched from the Royal Air Force’s Coningsby base in the English Midlands to escort the passenger plane after an incident but declined to give any more details.
Stansted airport confirmed the plane had landed safely and that the airport remained open and operating as normal.
“Essex Police has boarded a passenger plane diverted to Stansted Airport and two men have been arrested on suspicion of endangerment of an aircraft,” the police said in a statement. They had arrested two men, ages 30 and 41, and taken them to be interviewed, they said.
Police haven’t commented on the incident, but a spokesman for the airline indicated that it involved passengers making what was perceived to be a threat to the plane.
“According to the initial reports we have received, two passengers, both British citizens, said words to the effect that they will blow up the plane. We don’t have the exact words that they said,” said Mashhood Tajwar, a spokesman for PIA.
“This was conveyed to the captain, who immediately told air traffic control, which asked the plane to divert. The two passengers later said that they were joking, but the crew and the authorities decided to follow procedure and take every precaution against a possible threat. The plane was then diverted to Stansted and the two passengers are now in police custody,” said Mr. Tajwar.
The incident comes two days after the brutal murder of a British soldier on a street in southeast London in broad daylight Wednesday by two suspected extremists raised concerns about terror attacks in Britain.
While interceptions of passenger airliners by military jets aren’t unusual, diverting a plane minutes before landing is exceptional, said Philip Baum, managing director of Green Light Ltd., an aviation-security firm in London. He noted that diverting the plane to Stansted roughly 10 minutes before landing at Manchester Airport extended the flight.
“That’s not something you generally do if you’ve got an unruly passenger and suggests the authorities believed this was a credible threat,” Mr. Baum said.
Essex police are specially trained to handle hijackings and Stansted is the U.K.’s designated airport for emergencies.
—Cassell Bryan-Low and Saeed Shah contributed to this article.