The plane collided with a flock of birds while taking off Thursday from Moscow’s Zhukovsky airport. (AP: Andrei Nikerichev)
The Kremlin lauded two Russian pilots as heroes and said they would be handed state awards for landing an airliner carrying 233 people in a cornfield outside Moscow after striking a flock of birds during take-off.
- The plane’s engines were turned off and landing gear was up when it executed the emergency landing
- Footage shot by passengers showed the flight lasted less than two minutes
- The incident was being dubbed the “miracle over Ramensk”
The Ural Airlines Airbus 321 came down in a field southeast of Moscow with its landing gear up after hitting a passing flock of gulls, disrupting the plane’s engines.
No one was killed. Up to 55 people, including 17 children, were treated for injuries, six of whom have been hospitalised, Russian news agencies quoted the emergencies ministry as saying.
State television said the incident was being dubbed the “miracle over Ramensk”, the name of the district near Moscow where the plane came down around one kilometre from Zhukovsky International Airport.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid praised pilot Damir Yusupov as a “hero,” saying he had saved 233 lives, “having masterfully landed a plane without its landing gear with a failing engine right in a cornfield.”
Some drew comparisons with U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which performed a landing on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 after striking a flock of geese.
“We congratulate the hero pilots who saved people’s lives,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding the Kremlin would see the men were quickly given state honours.
“There’s no doubt about this. They will be given awards.”
‘We landed and everyone ran away’
The plane’s engines were turned off when it executed the emergency landing and it also had its landing gear up, according to Elena Mikheyeva, a spokeswoman for Russia’s civil aviation authority.
Footage shot by passengers showed the flight lasted less than two minutes and the engines had experienced difficulties almost immediately after take-off.
Vitya Babin, 11, who was on the plane with his mother and sister, said passengers had not been warned there was going to be an emergency landing.
There was silence in the cabin and then screams began when it touched down, footage showed.
“One of the stewardesses said there was smoke coming from the plane and we immediately panicked,” Mr Babin said.
“We ran after one of the men. He said ‘follow me’.”
An unnamed passenger interviewed by state television said the plane had started to shake moments after it took off.
“Five seconds later, the lights on the right side of the plane started flashing and there was a smell of burning,” he said.
“Then we landed and everyone ran away.”
Passengers were evacuated via escape slides and were told to distance themselves from the plane.
A local resident quoted by radio station Govorit Moskva said the gulls that struck the plane had probably come from an illegal rubbish dump near Zhukovsky airport.
Ural Airlines A321 (VQ-BOZ) made an off-airport emergency landing in a cornfield after both engines ingested birds shortly after take-off at Moscow-Zhukovsky Airport (UUBW), Russia. There are some injuries among 234 people on flight #U6178 to Simferopol
Moscow region officials, however, rejected that assertion and said the nearest rubbish dump to the airport was 14 kilometres away, TASS news agency reported.
The plane was due to fly to Simferopol in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.
Safety concerns have plagued Russia’s airline industry since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, though standards are widely recognised to have sharply risen on international routes in particular in recent years.