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Russian pilot says landing in cornfield was his only chance

The experienced captain, 41-year-old Damir Yusupov, said when one of the plane's engines shut down after the bird strike upon taking off from Moscow's Zhukovsky Airport that he had hoped to circle the airport and land normally.

By: AP | Moscow |
August 16, 2019 8:20:05 pm
Russia plane emergency landing, Russian plane lands in cornfield, Ural Airlines A321, Moscow's Zhukovsky Airport, Moscow passenger plane emergency landing, World news, Indian Express Rescuers and firefighters are seen near the Ural Airlines Airbus 321 passenger plane following an emergency landing. (Reuters)

A Russian pilot who managed to smoothly land his disabled plane in a cornfield after birds hit both engines said Friday that a quick landing was his only chance and he was not afraid of handling it.

The experienced captain, 41-year-old Damir Yusupov, said when one of the plane’s engines shut down after the bird strike upon taking off from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport that he had hoped to circle the airport and land normally.

But then, he said, his second engine cut off moments later, leaving him no choice.

He landed his Ural Airlines A321 so gently in the head-high corn that just one of the 233 people on board was hospitalised.

Yusupov’s feat Thursday drew comparisons to the 2009 “miracle on the Hudson,” when Captain Chesley Sullenberger safely ditched his plane in New York’s Hudson River after a bird strike disabled its engines, saving the lives of all 155 people on board.

“I didn’t feel any fear,” Yusupov told reporters in a televised interview from Yekaterinburg. “I saw a cornfield ahead and hoped to make a reasonably soft landing. I tried to lower vertical speed to make the plane land as smoothly as possible and glide softly.”

People all across Russian hailed Yusupov as a hero and the Kremlin said he and his crew will be given high awards. He said he was embarrassed by the spotlight.

“It feels odd and I’m shy,” he said.

Yusupov hailed his cabin crew, who managed to evacuate the passengers. He also apologised to passengers for failing to get them to their destination — Simferopol in Crimea.

“I wish a quick recovery to all those injured and I wish them not to be afraid of flying,” he added.

The Emergencies Ministry said 74 people asked for medical assistance after the landing. Health authorities said 23 people were taken to the hospital, but all but one was released following check-ups.

The son of a helicopter pilot, Yusupov had worked as a lawyer before he changed course and joined a flight school when he was 32.

He has flown with Ural Airlines since his graduation in 2013, logging over 3,000 flight hours. He became a captain last year.

Bird strikes on planes occur regularly around the world, even though airports use bird distress signals, air cannons and other methods to chase them away from runways.

Smaller birds are usually chopped up by a plane engine’s turbine fan blades, but plane engines aren’t designed to withstand strikes from multiple birds or larger birds.

John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, said the bird-vs-engine problem has been under study for years, with no permanent fix available yet.

He said the cornfield was a good place to land because it’s free of big rocks and trees that could have damaged the plane.

Some Russian officials suggested the flock of gulls that hit Yusupov’s plane could have been attracted by an unauthorised garbage dump near the airport.

Local authorities confirmed after checking that there are several dumpsites in the vicinity, including an unauthorised one.

Numerous ponds and lakes are also located near Zhukovsky Airport, helping attract gulls.

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