Greek Scientist Stayed in Minsk After Forced Ryanair Landing

Greek Researcher Stayed in Minsk After Forced Ryanair Landing

When a Ryanair Holdings Plc jet was forced to land in Minsk, 26-year-old Raman Pratasevich wasn’t the only one who didn’t resume the flight from Athens to Vilnius after his arrest by Belarusian authorities.

Aside from Pratasevich and his girlfriend, three more passengers stayed in Minsk, sparking scrutiny of their motivations as the affair ignited international outrage. That intensified after Pratasevich’s allies reported his concern about being followed in Athens. Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary alleged KGB agents were on board the aircraft, though his claim hasn’t been confirmed.

Belarus state television stirred further intrigue when it identified Iason Zisis, a Greek national, as being among those who failed to reembark, along with two Belarusians. When contacted by Bloomberg, Zisis, a researcher in advanced computational engineering, confirmed that he was on the flight and said the diversion turned out to save time for him.

“I was flying to Minsk anyway, with an evening connection in Vilnius,” Zisis said on LinkedIn. After the interruption, as passengers lined up to return to the aircraft, “I stood at the back of the queue and I asked to stay, and they allowed me.”

The episode -- with a fighter jet escort and armed officers in guard -- was unsettling for most passengers, provoking international outcry and investigations by European security agencies. But some of those on board have said they had not realized the forced landing took place to snatch a dissident off the flight until they reached Vilnius.

Zisis, who has a PhD in scientific computing from Eindhoven University of Technology, said that all the information he had at the time was from the pilot: that the plane was landing in Minsk for security reasons. He wasn’t aware of the arrest until later. Zisis, who lives in Patras, Southern Greece, said that he was heading to Minsk to visit his wife, who lives there.

A Greek government official, who asked not to be named, said that the investigation so far hasn’t indicated Zisis’s involvement in the incident or any connections to security services. Greece’s foreign ministry hasn’t commented.

Zisis says that he finds it inexcusable that journalists were the first to track him and reach him, and not the Greek government. He said that no one had called to confirm his whereabouts and whether he’s O.K. when he was missing from the list of passengers who landed in Vilnius after the diversion.

Zisis, whose research interests include hypervelocity impacts and computational fluid dynamics, says he plans to stay in Minsk with his wife for the time being, despite a looming flights embargo and that he had no issues with authorities there about his stay.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.