MOSCOW — The captain of a Russian passenger jet was hailed as a hero Thursday for landing his plane in a cornfield after it collided with a flock of gulls seconds after takeoff, causing both engines to malfunction. While dozens of people sought medical assistance, only one was hospitalized.
The event drew comparisons to the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson,” when a captain ditched his plane in New York’s Hudson River after a bird strike disabled his engines.
The Ural Airlines A321 carrying 226 passengers and a crew of seven hit the birds as it was taking off Thursday from Moscow’s Zhukovsky airport en route for Simferopol, in Crimea.
Russia’s Rosaviatsiya state aviation agency chief Alexander Neradko told reporters that the crew “made the only right decision” to land immediately after both of the plane’s engines malfunctioned, landing in a field about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the runway.
“The crew has shown courage and professionalism and deserve the highest state awards,” he said.
The airline said in a statement that the pilot shut down the engines to avoid fire as the plane landed with its fuel tanks fully loaded.
Ural Airlines lauded the crew for making the emergency landing and arranging a quick evacuation. The company said the captain, 41-year old Damir Yusupov, is a highly experienced pilot who has flown over 3,000 hours.
“It was quite a feat to keep the plane from stalling and quickly find a place to land,” Viktor Zabolotsky, a former test pilot, said in televised remarks.
Russian television stations carried footage of passengers standing in the cornfield next to the plane, hugging the pilot and thanking him for saving their lives.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, hailed the pilots as “heroes” and said they will receive state awards.
The Emergencies Ministry said that 55 people asked for medical assistance after the incident. The health authorities said 23 people, including five children, were taken to the hospital, but all but one were released following check-ups and quick treatment.
Plane engines are designed to withstand occasional bird strikes, but a collision with a flock of birds can result in serious trouble. Bird strikes on planes occur regularly around the world, and airports use bird distress signals, air cannons and other means to chase birds away — measures which aren’t always efficient.
In 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 hit a flock of geese after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport and both of its engines shut down. The crew made an emergency landing in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan, and everyone survived.
The “Miracle on the Hudson” was immortalized in the Hollywood movie “Sully,” based on the autobiography of Capt. Chesley Sullenberger and starring Tom Hanks.
Some media reports suggested that the birds could have been drawn to Zhukovsky by an unauthorized garbage dump in the vicinity, but there was no immediate confirmation of the claim.