Russian airliner with 233 on board suffers birdstrike, makes safe belly landing in cornfield near Moscow
A narrow-body airliner operated by Russia’s Ural Airlines and carrying 226 passengers and seven crew, landed with its wheels up in the countryside near Moscow after suffering a “rare” birdstrike.
Bound for Simferopol, Crimea, the Airbus A321 unexpectedly struck “numerous” seagulls or crows shortly after departing from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport.
Having no time to dump fuel and with no deployed undercarriages, the heavy-loaded jet made a belly landing in a cornfield just 1km from the runway. A spine chilling footage from inside the airctaft surfaced online a while later.
Moments before the bumpy touchdown, the malfunctioning engines were switched to avoid fire on board, it has been reported.
Ural Airlines CEO Sergey Skuratov said the scale of the birdstrike was in fact something out of the ordinary.
“It is quite rare, it happens maybe once in 50 years.”
Luckily, there was no blaze on board the ill-fated Airbus and no one died in the incident. Still, 76 passengers – including 19 children – received injuries. The majority of injuries weren’t serious and only one person required hospitalization, the Emergencies Ministry said, as it revealed the revised numbers. Initial reports said that only 23 people had been injured.
Meanwhile, the airline praised the crew for professionallism during the spine chilling landing as well as for “well-organized evacuation.”
People later described the traumatic experience they went through.
“The engine clapped several times, they tried to re-activate it but we started going down,” one man wrote on Twitter uploading a video of the jet.
“Now I believe in God, for sure.”
“This is my second birthday,” another woman is heard saying in a video taken by one of the passengers.
The Thursday incident is reminiscent of a 2009 incident known as the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ involving US Airways Flight 1549, when an Airbus A320 flown by Captain Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles hit a flock of geese after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and lost all engine power. Unable to land at any available airport, they had to ditch the jet in the Hudson River outside Manhattan, with all 155 rescued by nearby ferries and boats.
The footage shot by a passenger seated next to the window shows the two-engine, narrow-body airliner speeding down the runway at Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport. In a matter of seconds, the left wing crosses the path of a flock of birds.
The emergency landing was conducted without the landing gear deployed. In a separate video, a sputtering sound can be heard, presumably from the engines. It was reported that both engines were switched off prior to the landing.
Flattened cornstalks and a dented nose cone make up the bulk of the damage in the aftermath of an emergency landing near Moscow.
Footage shows the wreckage of the largely intact aircraft up close. Russia’s Investigative Committee rushed to the scene of Thursday’s accident, near Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport, but what they found was atypical for crash sites.With all 226 passengers and seven crew surviving the emergency landing, officials marveled at an almost entirely intact aircraft.
Passenger hailed the crew’s skill and courage:
It was a chilling experience for passengers of the A321 jet as they watched it descend for an emergency landing in a field outside Moscow after a troublesome take off. They are now lauding the pilots for saving their lives.
“As the plane was taking off, it was clear that something was wrong with the engines. It took a very long time to gain speed,” a passenger, a man in his 20s, told RT.
“We started falling, we had that distinctive sound when the plane tried to restart the engines but they couldn’t do it,” a young woman added.
The pilots, 41-year-old Captain Damir Yusupov and his 23-year-old First Officer Georgy Murzin, didn’t have time to return to the airport as they were flying quite low above ground level.
In fact, they had only few seconds left to quickly find an open space below them and prepare to make a bumpy but fortunate belly landing. As the protocol prescribes, the engines were shut down but the landing gear wasn’t deployed.
“We saw the field approaching, everyone grouped as I tried to protect my kids,” another woman recalled. “But the captain did well, he landed the plane and everyone applauded him when he exited [the cockpit].”
“I think we are all alive thanks to him,” she suggested.
There was no panic on board even though the touchdown was rough, passengers said. “They evacuated the plane on their own … the pilot did a great job, he landed the plane really carefully,” the young woman continued. Flight attendants told everyone to leave their stuff behind and escape using the A321’s eight doors.
In countless videos that have spread swiftly across social media, survivors can be seen calmly exiting the aircraft, reaching out to loved ones by phone and making sure that others made it out alive.
“This is my second birthday!” an old woman was heard exclaiming in a video taken by one of the passengers, as other evacuees made their way through the cornfield. “Now I believe in God, for sure,” a Twitter user confessed, uploading an image of the jet.
As the public called for the crew to be honored, the Kremlin announced that it will give state awards to the “hero” pilots who carried out the emergency landing. Aviation pundits have also reflected on the remarkable event, telling RT that the conduct of the pilots and crew was “brilliant.”
Many aviation experts compared the landing to the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ landing:
Captain Damir Yusupov and First Officer Georgy Murzin manually landed their A321 Airbus in a cornfield just 1km from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport, after their airplane struck “numerous” seagulls or crows shortly after takeoff.
Aviation experts have been quick to draw parallels between Thursday’s incident and the famous ‘Miracle on the Hudson’, in which a US Airways flight made an emergency landing after colliding with a flock of geese. The pilots decided to land the plane in the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew.
RAF instructor David Learmount described the two incidents as “identical” – except that the American pilots “got a little bit higher before the birds hit them,” giving them more time to react.
“Like this event, everybody survived. And like this event, the pilot did not put the gear down,” Learmount noted.
Aviation expert Julan Bray agreed with the comparison.
“[Captain Yusupov] took a calculated risk. He decided to go for what we call a ‘belly flop’. And he landed it beautifully.”
‘A textbook emergency landing’
Choosing the cornfield to make their impromptu landing, coupled with the decisions to cut the engines and forgo deploying the landing gear, were critical decisions which likely saved lives.
Learmount pointed out that the landing gear would have snapped off it had come in contact with the soft soil of the cornfield, arguing that the pilots made the right decision to land without it, even though they had “very, very little time” to act. He noted that complications with the landing gear could have ruptured a fuel tank, increasing the likelihood of a fire.
“These pilots did brilliantly because they were really quite low [to the ground],” he said.
What the pilots did under the circumstances was “absolutely right,” Bray told RT, adding that there was no fire because the plane’s crew “very correctly followed procedure.”
“I take my hat off to the two pilots and to everybody on board, the crew and the passengers. Because this was a textbook emergency landing. Nobody panicked, everybody got off.”
The decision to land in a cornfield was particularly adept, Bray said.
“Corn is quite an oily crop, so you’ve got ready-made lubricant in that field. So it’s like landing on an ice rink. But it was a nice, gentle landing.”
Citing photographs and videos of the crash scene, Bray marveled at the technique and skill employed by the pilots to land the plane safely.
“The plane slides in a straight line, it isn’t veering off its course. So I think [they] knew exactly where [they] was going to put it down. And [they] calculated how long the slide would be.”
The impressive feat of aviation is something of a national tradition, Learmount said.
“Russia does have a history of having very good pilots.”
The pilots who landed the packed Russian plane will be receiving state awards:
The Kremlin will “undoubtedly” honor two “hero pilots” who safely landed the packed A321 in the countryside near Moscow’s Zhukovsky airport, saving 233 lives, a presidential aide said.
“Once all formalities are done, they will be given their awards without doubt,” Dmitry Peskov announced.
The two pilots, Captain Damir Yusupov and First Officer Georgy Murzin, were earlier praised by the public after manually landing the aircraft in a corn field just 1km from the airfield they departed from.
Despite having no time to dump fuel, the crew managed to safely land the heavy-loaded aircraft and evacuate all 226 passengers.Commenting on the fortunate landing, Peskov wished a speedy recovery to those injured (76 including children) and praised “the hero pilots who saved lives and landed the plane.”
The Ural Airlines’ A321 was flying to Simferopol in Crimea when it hit the flock of birds shortly after take-off, disrupting its two engines.