British air force diverts Pakistani plane, 2 passengers arrested, after alleged threat

Two passengers on board a Pakistan International Airlines flight were arrested Friday on suspicion of endangering an aircraft after Britain scrambled two Royal Air Force Typhoon jets to investigate and escort the plane to safety.

Flight PK709 from Lahore, Pakistan, to Manchester, England, was diverted at 1:20 p.m. local time to Stansted Airport, northeast of London. The plane, with 297 passengers on board, landed safely and was being held in an isolated area. Essex police confirmed the arrests of two passengers, who are British nationals, ages 30 and 41. The incident was being treated as a criminal offense and both men were being questioned, officials said. There were no reports of injuries.

Mashood Dajwar, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines, said the incident began when the two passengers in question threatened a flight attendant. The attendant communicated the threat to the pilot, who passed on the concern to air traffic control in Manchester. Dajwar said he could not elaborate on the nature of the alleged threat but said the two men later said they were only making a joke.

After concerns were conveyed to authorities in Manchester, the flight was diverted to Stansted — one of two airports in Britain designated for managing security threats.

“Normally, if something goes wrong, whether it is a real threat or a hoax, the standard procedure is to send the plane to an isolated area, like Stansted,” Dajwar said. “The two passengers, who have later claimed that they were just joking about the threat, have been arrested. The Essex police are still investigating.”

After landing at Stansted, police boarded the aircraft and two men were taken into custody before passengers disembarked.

Showaib Naseer, 17, of Manchester, was about to pick up his father from the airport and had his car keys in hand when he received an unexpected call.

“Around 2 o’clock I received a call from my father,” Naseer said. “He said, ‘The plane has been hijacked and we are now in London Stansted Airport.’ ”

The phone call was cut short, but Naseer’s father said that he and other passengers were being held at Stansted to be interviewed separately by police.

The incident has occurred at a time when Britain is on edge, after the brutal slaying Wednesday of a British soldier in East London by two Islamic extremists.

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