MOSCOW — At a time when good news seems hard to come by, Russians are hailing a pilot who safely landed an Airbus A321 in a cornfield Thursday after the airliner struck a flock of seagulls on takeoff and lost power in both engines.
Seventy-four people who were aboard sought medical attention after the landing, the Ministry of Emergency Situations told the Interfax news agency.
Damir Yusupov can take his place alongside Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who landed his US Airways plane in New York’s Hudson River in 2009 after a similar bird strike cut out its engines.
“The Ural Airlines crew showed fantastic skill and endurance. The aircraft commander is Yekaterinburg [resident] Damir Yusupov. He and his team saved 233 lives. Heroes,” said the governor of the Sverdlovsk region, Yevgeny Kuyvashev, as reported by the Varlamov.ru website. The co-pilot was identified as Grigory Murzin.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ordered the Transport Ministry to prepare state awards for the crew, Interfax reported.
The jet was headed from Moscow’s Zhukovsky airport to Simferopol, in Crimea, carrying 226 passengers and seven crew members. The bird strike happened a minute after takeoff, about 40 seconds earlier in the flight than Sullenberger’s plane was when it ran into a flock of geese as it was climbing from LaGuardia Airport.
Sound on a video taken by a passenger suggested that the crew repeatedly tried to restart the engines. Two thin trails of smoke streamed from the front of the engine.
“I held on to a cross. Now I definitely believe in God,” an unidentified passenger told the gazeta.ru website.
The plane belly-flopped without its landing gear deployed in a field more than two miles from the runway, according to news reports. Aerial video showed that the plane cut across the rows of corn on a diagonal path, crossing an irrigation ditch moments after hitting the ground and coming to a stop only a short distance beyond that.
The August corn is at nearly its full height; photos showed the tassels reaching almost to the plane’s windshield. The passengers were able to get off via the emergency chutes and walk to a clearing. Firefighters responded, but there was apparently no fire.
Those who were injured were taken to a hospital. The Health Ministry said one woman was admitted, though the Emergency Situations Ministry said six were admitted.
Ural Airlines said it would fly the passengers who still wanted to go to Simferopol later Thursday.
The landing comes as forest fires rage in parts of Siberia, as protesters continue to push for political rights in the face of brutal police tactics in Moscow, and as confusion and anxiety reign following an explosion involving nuclear materials at a military testing ground. And that’s just in Russia.