Easyjet plane to Spain’s Menorca escorted by fighter jet after bomb hoax

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MADRID, July 4 (Reuters) – An Easyjet flight heading from London to the Spanish holiday island of Menorca on Sunday was escorted to its destination by a Spanish fighter jet after a British teenager onboard made a bomb threat on social media, police said on Monday.

The 18-year-old, who was travelling with five friends, spent the night in jail and is awaiting a court hearing, said a spokesman for Spain’s Civil Guard police.

Footage of the incident showed an F-18 jet flying close to the distinctive orange wingtips of the commercial airline’s A-319 aircraft, which typically carries between 120 and 150 passengers.

The fighter jet is seen waggling its wings, a gesture known in aviation as indicating the other pilot should follow him, while worried passengers can be heard discussing what is happening, with one woman asking: “Why is it doing that, is it just showing off?”

Military planes usually intercept civilian aircraft when ground air traffic control lose contact with them or there is a perceived threat to the aircraft or passengers either because of a bomb warning, suspicious object or feared terrorist activity.

EasyJet flight EZY8303, which left London Gatwick airport at 1 p.m., landed safely at Menorca airport in the Balearic Islands around half an hour late, just before 5 p.m., and was escorted to a security area.

There, the teenager was arrested and over a period of two hours passengers were disembarked one by one and asked to identify their luggage for checks by sniffer dogs and bomb disposal experts, the Civil Guard said.

Other flights out of Menorca were disrupted by the incident.

An Easyjet spokesman confirmed the flight was escorted by a military aircraft and there was a delayed disembarking due to precautionary security checks, but did not give details as to the cause.

“The safety and security of its passengers and crew is always easyJet’s highest priority and we would like to thank passengers for their understanding,” he said.

In another development, EasyJet’s chief operating officer (COO) has stepped down after the airline cancelled thousands of flights this summer to try to limit the disruption caused to passengers from staff shortages in the air and on the ground.

Peter Bellew resigned on Friday to pursue other opportunities, the British low-cost carrier said on Monday.

It has appointed David Morgan, who has been with the airline since 2016 including running operations in 2019, as interim COO, reporting directly to Chief Executive Johan Lundgren.

“Everyone at easyJet remains absolutely focused on delivering a safe and reliable operation this summer,” said Lundgren, who thanked Bellew for his hard work.

“David has significant experience and deep knowledge of the business and operation and will provide strong leadership for the airline this summer.”

Shares in EasyJet , which have fallen back to the lows of March 2020 at the start of the pandemic, were trading down 2.5% in early afternoon deals.

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