BEIRUT — A Middle East Airlines flight that departed Beirut for London's Heathrow Airport on Friday afternoon was forced to land in Athens due to a technical problem, where the passengers who disembarked from the aircraft were stuck in a waiting room for hours, two of them told L'Orient Today.
According to the air traffic monitoring platform Flight Aware, flight ME203 Beirut-London landed at Athens' Eleftherios Venizelos airport two hours after its departure, at 5:27 p.m., from Lebanon. According to a map published by this site, the Airbus A321 was diverted around 7:15 p.m. After flying along the west of Turkey and just before flying over the Greek island of Lesbos, it made a 90-degree turn towards Athens, where it landed at 7:26 p.m.
On the site of the Heathrow air hub, the arrival of the plane, scheduled for around 20:30 GMT, was officially "canceled."
Middle East Airlines has so far not commented on the incident, and L'Orient Today's efforts to reach the airline on Saturday were unsuccessful.
According to Youssef Safieddine, who was on board the plane, another aircraft was indeed sent by the Lebanese airline "12 hours" after the flight arrived in Athens, a long delay during which the passengers "were trapped in a small room."
In a video he posted on his Instagram account, dozens of people can be seen in a waiting room, some trying to get answers from an employee on the scene.
"It is currently 11:30 p.m. and we have not received any news from MEA. Even the crew of the plane has disappeared," he wrote in comments on the social network.
Reactor partially dismantled
Another passenger posted a photo of a MEA plane with one of its engines partially dismantled. He briefly explained to L'Orient Today that after long hours of waiting, the passengers were finally able to board another aircraft "around 4 a.m." and that they arrived at their destination on Saturday morning.
This is the second controversy involving the MEA in recent weeks, after a serious incident on Aug. 10, when a Madrid-Beirut flight, whose captain was Abed el-Hout, son of the airline's chairman Mohammad el-Hout, was escorted for a time by Greek fighter jets over Greece. According to Athens, the Greek authorities had triggered the "Renegade" alert following a report from the NATO air traffic control center in Spain, in order to intercept the civilian plane in question, which did not respond to radio calls. According to Beirut, however, there was no failure on the part of the Lebanese pilots.