An airline pilot is being touted as a hero this week after making a successful emergency landing in a corn field after a swarm of birds was sucked into the plane’s engines during takeoff, causing them to fail. Everyone on board reportedly survived.
Forty-one-year-old Captain Damir Yusupov was piloting Ural Airlines’ flight 178 from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport to Simferopol, Crimea — a popular vacation destination for many Russians — on Thursday when it became apparent that something had gone very wrong during takeoff.
Passengers on the aircraft told Russian news outlets that the Airbus A321 began shaking, making noises and smelling of something burning as it began its incline, shortly after 6:10 AM local time. According to an announcement from national aviation regulator Rosaviatsia, the plane collided with a large flock of seagulls that flew in front of the runway right as it was taking off. The birds were pulled into the plane’s two engines, causing them both to sputter to a stop.
Yusupov reportedly radioed to see if they could land back at the airport, but ended up making an emergency landing in a corn field less than a mile away after realizing they would not make it back to the runway. Yusupov landed the plane with no power in either engine, and the landing gear retracted.
The estimated 226 passengers and seven crew members deplaned among the corn stalks using emergency inflatable slides.
According to a statement from Russia’s Health Ministry, 23 of the passengers were brought to a local hospital with minor wounds, nine of those were children. Only one member of that group, a 69-year-old woman, required hospitalization for non-life threatening conditions.
Photos and videos of the crash site have been poring up on social media, many of them showing the plane engulfed in flames in certain areas, and skid marks through the field where the aircraft came to an abrupt halt.
Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov announced at a press conference that both Yusupov and his co-pilot would be nominated for state awards. “Today is a really good day,” he said in a statement translated from Russian. “Let us offer our wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured and congratulate the heroic pilots for saving people’s lives and landing the plane.”
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The incident is similar to the emergency landing that occurred on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 that has become known as “the miracle on the Hudson.” That plane, US Airways flight 1549, hit a flock of Canada geese during takeoff leading to an engine failure. The pilot, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, landed the plane safely on the waterway.