One of the strangest moments of Bolivian Air Force flight FAB-001, which ferried President Evo Morales from Moscow to a perhaps unwanted stopover in Vienna and now to the Canary Islands en route to Bolivia, came shortly after the Dassault Falcon 900EX took a sudden hairpin turn over central Austria.
According to audio posted online and purportedly taken from the flight's radio communications, the pilots called in to Vienna air traffic control to request permission to land, saying, "We need to land because we cannot get a correct indication of the fuel indication – we need to land." You can listen to the audio here:
That moment, if the audio is indeed what it purports to be (more on this below), adds another data point to the strange and convoluted story of FAB-001's diversion to Vienna on its way from Moscow to Bolivia.
According to Bolivian officials, the flight diverted to land in Vienna because European countries they were to pass through had revoked their permission to fly over or perhaps to stop for refueling. The Bolivians charged this was because those countries suspected NSA leaker Edward Snowden may have been on board. And, indeed, Austrian officials said they conducted a routine search of the plane and passport check.
But the Bolivian narrative appears to be contradicted by European officials, some of whom have said Morales's plane always had permission to enter their airspace.
Just because the pilots may have stated one reason for landing does not necessarily exclude the possibility that they may have had other reasons as well, of course, nor does this on its own rule out Morales's claims. But it certainly adds to the confusion of the incident and, at least, would seem to undercut any possibility that the flight was told to land.
The radio communications between flights and air traffic controllers can be publicly accessed by anyone with an appropriate radio; aviation hobbyists, a sizable sub-culture, are often listening in. One such hobbyist, who according to Wired and the Guardian has previously identified as a former member of the Dutch military and is well known within the community, posted the audio shortly after the incident.