Here’s a map showing the very strange flight path of Bolivian President Evo Morales

July 3, 2013

(Screenshot of FlightRadar24.com)

A few hours after Bolivian Air Force flight FAB-001 took off from Moscow, carrying President Evo Morales, the small plane took a hairpin turn back East, toward Vienna, where it landed.

You can see the turn on the above map, from the flight-tracking site Flightradar24.com, which gathers publicly available information on flight paths. It's quite sudden and appears to have been made over central Austria, near the Swiss and Italian borders. The flight would have crossed into French and then Spanish airspace soon after. The flight path, in purple, turns blue toward the end to indicate a drop in altitude.

That turn has since become the source of enormous international controversy. Morales, while in Russia, had made public comments strongly suggesting he might be willing to shelter NSA leaker Edward Snowden, raising questions as to whether he might ferry the American fugitive on his personal plane.

Here's a wider view of FAB-001's initial leg from Moscow to Vienna:


(Screenshot from FlightRadar24.com)

We still don't know for sure why the plane turned around; there are several competing versions of events. Bolivian officials said that France and Portugal, as well as perhaps Spain and Italy, had revoked permission for the plane to traverse their air space or had denied permission to refuel there, suggesting that the European countries believed Snowden may have been on the flight. French and Spanish officials said the flight was free to cross their air space.

On the other hand, audio purportedly taken from the flight's communication with air traffic control, which can be accessed and recorded by anyone with the appropriate radio, has the pilot requesting permission to land because they believe they may not have enough fuel.

Once they landed, though, Austrian officials searched the plane for Snowden and checked the passports of everyone on board, according to a statement by a spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry, who called the checks "routine."

The flight left Vienna soon after, traveling through Italian, French, Spanish and Portugese air space apparently without incident. Here's a map of that route so far:


(Screenshot from FlightRadar24.com)

The flight is currently headed for the Canary Islands, a part of Spain located west of the African coast, where Bolivian and Spanish officials agreed the flight would be allowed to refuel. From there, it will head back to Bolivia. Once it lands, expect to hear much, much more from Morales.

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Max Fisher · July 2, 2013