NEWS

Bomb threat forces OA jet to land early

A New York-bound Olympic Airlines passenger jet had to make an emergency landing at a London airport yesterday, escorted by British fighter jets, following bomb threats phoned in to a Greek newspaper. Officials at Stansted Airport were investigating the Airbus 340 until late yesterday for signs of explosives. All 289 passengers who boarded the plane in Athens and the 12-strong crew were safely evacuated, and were expected to board the jet once the safety inspection was over. According to a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense, Tornado jets were scrambled to escort the plane into the airport northeast of London. The plane had taken off from Athens International Airport at 12.50 p.m. At around 3.15 p.m., an anonymous caller told the Ethnos newspaper that a bomb had been planted on the aircraft. Police, civil aviation authorities and airline officials were notified, and the pilot was informed of the threat about half an hour later. «It was decided that the plane should land at the nearest airport,» Olympic Airlines said in a statement. Some two hours after the pilot received the warning, at 5.34 p.m. Greek time, the plane touched down at Stansted following negotiations with British officials. «The caller appeared to give a specific point as to where the bomb was, and that’s why they decided the plane had to land,» a spokesman for Stansted Airport said. A Public Order Ministry announcement said Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis and the head of the Greek police force were immediately notified of the threat, and stressed that strong security measures were in force at Athens Airport. «Checks on aircraft, passengers and luggage at the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, as at all Greek airports, are thorough and conform with the highest security standards,» the ministry said. Olympic Airlines said that, apart from having subjected passengers, their luggage and hand-luggage to scans, the company also used security personnel to guard the plane throughout preparations for takeoff, only allowing authorized persons on board. Furthermore, Olympic said, police sniffer dogs had checked the plane for explosives.