Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Force Threat Grounds Unregistered Flight

A Russian commercial airliner carrying 25 passengers was forced to land or face attack from military fighter planes for allegedly flying without a flight plan, Air Force officials said Thursday.

Krasnoyarsk Airlines flight AFL2291, en route from Krasnoyarsk to Kaunas, Lithuania, touched down at Yekaterinburg's Koltsovo airport at 11:39 p.m. Moscow time Wednesday without incident, Interfax reported.

The flight, which originated in Tianjin, China, refused repeated requests from civilian air traffic controllers to return to Krasnoyarsk or land in a nearby city. When the pilot, identified only by his last name, Vakhrushev, refused, the Air Force took over.

"We told them by radio, 'If you don't land in Yekaterinburg, we will send up fighter planes to intercept you and force you to land,'" said Air Force spokesman Alexander Dragushensky.

"This presented a huge danger," he said. "This plane took off outside the schedule and no one assigned them a [flight] path. There could have been a catastrophe."

Airline executives attribute the forced landing to a misunderstanding between the pilot and local air traffic controllers. Serge Lapardine, the airline's Moscow representative, said the aircraft was leased to a Lithuanian airline called Sibeks.

The crew requested to fly on Wednesday, but the flight plan was either improperly filled out or was misunderstood by air traffic controllers, he said.

"There was a mistake in the flight plan," he said. "There was some sort of mistake in the date." Lapardine added that according to his information, the flight was brought down by civilian, and not military, authorities.

An airline executive in Krasnoyarsk, who would not give his name, said the plane later left Yekaterinburg and landed safely in Kaunas.

Dragushensky, however, described a different scenario. The crew that piloted the Tu-154 from China deplaned in Krasnoyarsk, went through customs and turned the plane over to a new crew, he said.

"Then the second crew came and they left from Krasnoyarsk at their own will," he said. "Air traffic control tried to get them to land in Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Novosibirsk. That's when the military got involved."

The Air Force, in a written statement, blamed the incident on newly created Russian airlines flouting air-traffic rules for the sake of profit. Sibeks could not be reached for comment.

"The most serious measures should be taken, right up to a criminal case," Dragushensky said, adding that Air Force investigators are working on the case. He suggested that the pilots could lose their licenses or face charges. "All the rules of aviation were broken."