- NEW: U.S. officials are monitoring the situation and contacting Turkish authorities
- Two F-16 jets scramble to intercept hijacked plane 20 minutes after getting alert
- Ukrainian diplomats work with Turks to confirm citizenship of suspect
- Passenger says there’s a bomb in the plane’s baggage hold while the plane is airborne
(CNN) — A Pegasus Airlines plane landed at an Istanbul airport Friday after a passenger “said that there was a bomb on board” and wanted the plane to land in Sochi, Russia, the site of the Winter Olympics, said officials with Turkey’s Transportation Ministry.
“While the plane was in the air, one of the passengers said that there was a bomb on board and asked the plane to not land in Sabiha Gokcen (in Turkey) but rather to land in Sochi,” Transportation Ministry official Habip Soluk said Friday on CNNTurk.
The passenger said the bomb was in the baggage hold, a Transportation Ministry official said.
Official opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games began Friday in Sochi amid intense security against potential terror attacks.
Cihan News Agency of Turkey said the alleged hijacker was apparently being detained, as it published a photograph from inside the plane of a man standing in a numbered-11 sports jersey with empty seats around him and two people in uniform.
Turkish officials couldn’t be immediately reached to confirm the photograph.
Officials had no immediate details on why the alleged hijacker wanted to divert the plane to Sochi.
The plane sent a hijacking signal, and after landing, it was in a safe zone at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen Airport, Turkish state media outlet TRT reported.
Video from the safe zone on the tarmac showed police and security officials milling around a Pegasus Airlines jet, while buses removed passengers. Security officers were searching for a bomb aboard the plane, the transportation official said.
The alleged hijacker is of Ukrainian nationality, Soluk said.
The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey was working with Turkish authorities to confirm the citizenship of the suspect, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.
U.S. officials were also in contact with Turkish authorities Friday. “We’re monitoring the situation and have been in touch with the Turkish government,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
The flight started in Kharkov in Ukraine, and was headed to Istanbul, according to the Transportation Ministry.
Turkey’s Air Force Control Center received a hijacking alert at 5:20 p.m. local time, and by 5:40, two F-16 jets had scrambled to intercept the hijacked airliner, a Boeing 737-800, according to Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency.
“These planes accompanied the Pegasus plane over the Black Sea,” the agency said. Pegasus is a Turkey-based airline.
The passenger plane landed at the Istanbul airport at 6:04 p.m., Anadolu said.
CNN’s Gul Tuysuz reported from Turkey, and Michael Martinez reported and wrote from Los Angeles. Victoria Butenko contributed from Kiev, Ukraine.