London: Two British nationals arrested after UK fighter jets were scrambled to escort a Pakistani passenger jet to Stansted Airport, remain in custody and are being questioned on suspicion of endangering the aircraft.
The two men, aged 30 and 41, were led off the Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777 by armed police officers after it was diverted yesterday en route to a scheduled landing at Manchester Airport following a disturbance in the cabin.
Superintendent Darrin Tomkins of Essex Police said a threat was made as the plane, flying from Lahore with 297 passengers on board, was preparing to land.
He confirmed that the arrested men are being questioned by detectives at a local police station in Essex, north-east of London.
"The plane will remain at its current location and will be subject to forensic investigation by specialist officers. This incident is being treated as a criminal offence," he said.
RAF Typhoon fighter jets were scrambled when Flight PK709 sent out an emergency code which alerted the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the police.
A PIA spokesperson said air traffic controllers in Manchester contacted the pilot 25 minutes before the plane was due to land, after receiving information from British security services.
The aircraft then headed back out to the North Sea before travelling south to Stansted, escorted by Typhoon jets from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.
According to some airline sources, a threat to blow up the plane arose from an on-board family row and airline staff alerted the authorities as a precaution.
"There was a conflict between two passengers after one of them got into a confrontation with the stewards. The two middle-aged passengers who previously had the altercation were simply asked to come with police who had boarded the aircraft. They were then handcuffed and taken away," passenger Shahid Yaqoob told Pakistan`s `Express News`.
The flight landed at a designated safe location away from the terminal building at Stansted Airport, London`s third-biggest and official counter-terrorism airport.
The remaining passengers were ordered to leave their possessions on board before disembarking under police escort and were taken to the terminal building for a debriefing.
The incident occurred just hours after a British Airways plane was forced to make an emergency landing at London`s Heathrow Airport with smoke billowing from an engine.
All passengers on board the London-Oslo flight were evacuated safely. Flights to and from both airports are now operating as normal.