Iranian hero pilot gets cold shoulder

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the name of pilot Hooshang Shahbazi was incorrectly given as Hooshang Amiri.

October 29, 2011

An Iranian pilot whose spectacular emergency landing was captured on video will not be allowed to fly a plane for two months, the Fars news agency reported Saturday.

The video shows the Iran Air flight slowly approaching Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on Oct. 18 with its nose landing gear jammed. As rescue workers prepared for the worst, Capt. Hooshang Shahbazi balanced the plane using only the landing gear under the wings until it came to a stop.

The 40-year-old Boeing 727, which was returning from Moscow, had been blacklisted in Europe but not in Russia. A similar plane crashed in February in western Iran during bad weather, killing 77.

Shahbazi complained to news media here that Iranian authorities have not expressed any gratitude for his efforts, which saved the lives of 94 passengers and 19 crew members.

“They did not even call to say thank you,” Shahbazi told the Etemaad newspaper, which is critical of the government, on Saturday. Instead he was told to stay home for two months to recuperate from the incident, the semi-official Fars news agency reported Saturday, adding that there will be an investigation into the cause.

Iran, which is not allowed to buy spare parts for its aging civil aviation fleet because of U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic, has a long history of plane crashes that have caused hundreds of deaths. In October, European fuel companies, under pressure from the United States, agreed to stop providing fuel to Iranian planes.

But even as Iran’s state television remains silent on the effects of U.S. sanctions, Shahbazi’s heroic actions have also gone unmentioned in Iran’s state media. Authorities ignored the incident, which highlights Iran’s growing need for new planes and the increasing pressure of ever tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Shahbazi cited a 2009 incident in the United States in which a U.S. Airways airliner was struck by a flock of birds. Captain Chesley Sullenberger managed to safely land the Airbus A320 on the Hudson River, steering away from Manhattan’s high-rises, saving the lives of all 155 aboard and turning him into a national hero.

Shahbazi said that while he was not expecting such a reception, Iranian authorities “should praise my colleagues in Iran Air. They only have to say ‘thank you,’ that’s all.”

Shahbazi had decided not to land his plane at Tehran’s International Imam Khomeni Airport because a crash there would have closed its only runway. “That would have been a disaster for Iran, also politically,” he said.

Passengers on board the Moscow-Tehran flight clapped and cheered as they exited the plane.

The plane, which suffered only minor damage, will be repaired and go back into service, an Iran Air spokesman said.

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