The Russians are coming! UK media hypes up RAF interception of Latvian plane

Two Royal Air Force jets reportedly threatened to shoot down a Latvian cargo plane, rushing at supersonic speeds to intercept it, after the plane failed to respond to air traffic control over Kent in Southern England and sent authorities into panic mode.

“I am instructed by Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom to warn you that, if you do not respond immediately to my orders, you will be shot down,” radioed one of the jets, according to an audio recording circulating in UK media.

The incident occurred at about 5pm local time after the Latvian Antonov An-26 aircraft failed to make contact with air traffic controllers.

British Typhoons were tasked with intercepting the cargo plane. “To fulfill their quick reaction role, they were cleared to travel at supersonic speed,” an RAF spokesperson said, adding that the speed explains the loud noise people heard in the air.

Many locals took to Twitter, describing how their houses shook after the loud bangs.

Communications with the civilian pilots were restored only after the jets intercepted the plane.

The Latvian plane was then escorted to London’s Stansted Airport at around 5:20 pm “All three people who were on board have been spoken to by police,” AP quoted Essex Police spokeswoman Emma Thomas as saying. “It was established that everything was in order and the reason for the short loss of communication was due to a change in airspace jurisdiction.”

Russian planes everywhere

The excitement surrounding the intercept – apparently based on post-9/11 terrorist attack fears – came amid a heightened terror alert in the UK at the time of the allied military campaign against the Islamic State.

Media reports mirrored the panic frenzy triggered by the incident, but in a peculiar way: first saying that the cargo plane was “Russian” and then switching to a “Russian-made” reference.

Both takes were wrong: the Antonov design bureau, the producer of An-26 planes, is a Ukrainian company founded in Soviet times, and the plane in question belonged to a Latvian-registered company, ironically called RAF-Avia.

However, the British media seemingly capitalized on the latest NATO reports of “unusual” increased activity of Russian military aircrafts over the Atlantic and the Black Sea.

An-26 (AFP Photo/TASR)

NATO stated that it has intercepted four groups of Russian planes since Tuesday. “These sizeable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace,” the alliance said.

Most media reports based on the NATO statement failed to mention that the Russian planes did not cross any borders and remained within international airspace in every mentioned case.

Four Tupolev Tu-95 strategic bombers were spotted participating in a military exercise over the Norwegian Sea early on Wednesday. “We see Russian aircraft near our airspace on a regular basis but what was unusual is that it was a large number of aircraft and pushed further south than we normally see,” Reuters quoted a Norwegian military spokesman as saying.

In another incident on Wednesday, two Tu-95s were being monitored by Turkish aircraft over the Black Sea.