A Moscow-bound S7 Airlines flight carrying Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny diverted to the Siberian city of Omsk on Thursday, following a suspected poisoning.
The 737-800, registered VP-BQF, departed Tomsk Bogashevo Airport in the country’s east at 8:06am. After nearly an hour in the air, the politician was heard screaming from an onboard lavatory.
Passengers were held on the runway before the plane was able to take off again, landing in Moscow at 10:15am local time (just two hours behind schedule).
Navalny was subsequently put on a ventilator in the toxicology ICU at Omsk’s Emergency Hospital No 1, according to the TASS state news agency, before being flown by air ambulance for further treatment in Germany.
Navalny’s spokesman, Kira Yarmysh, said that while the opposition leader had not consumed anything on the flight, he had drunk a cup of tea at a the airport cafe before boarding the flight.
“We think that Alexei was poisoned with something mixed in his tea. That was the only thing he drank in the morning,” Yarmysh wrote on Twitter. “Doctors say the poison was quickly absorbed through the hot liquid.”
Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Omsk, said in an official release that “the poisoning version is one of several versions being considered. It’s not possible now to say what the reason was”.
Described by the Wall Street Journal as the “man Vladimir Putin fears most”, Navalny heads up the country’s Russia of the Future movement – and has been an outspoken critic of the President Putin’s United Russia party in recent years.
The news comes as the second incident of note in just one week for the airline, with an A320neo flying from Novosibirsk to Magadan aborting landing after a grizzly bear wandered onto the runway.