A Russian airliner crash-landed in a cornfield after a bird strike took out both engines on Thursday afternoon, leaving some of the 233 people aboard with minor injuries, but killing no one (apart from a number of seagulls). The Airbus A321-100 had taken off from Moscow’s Zhukovsky International Airport, bound for Simferopol in Crimea, and landed a mere 3.2 miles from the runway. After the plane landed, the flight attendants deployed the emergency slides and the passengers evacuated the jet. Fifty-five people, including 17 children, were hurt, according to the Russian Health Ministry, but just six required hospitalization for “moderate” injuries.
Ural Airlines Flight 178 has already been dubbed the “Miracle on the Ramenskoe,” for the district of Moscow where the plane came down, given the similarity to the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” flight, when a US Airways Airbus A320 lost both engines after taking off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City and landed safely on the nearby river.
Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles were at about 2,800 feet when a flock of geese wiped out their power. By contrast, the Ural pilots, Damir Yusupov and Georgy Muruzin, found themselves without working engines at just 750 feet. Rather then try to turn around and get back to the runway, they shut the engines and coasted straight ahead, aiming for the open fields southeast of the airport, which is itself just southeast of Moscow.
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“The best thing is to find a flat spot,” says Pete Field, an aviation consultant and former Navy test pilot. When a jet loses power, the altimeter becomes the fuel gauge, and even in an airliner that’s built to glide, 750 feet is pretty close to empty. Turning around is costly in terms of time and altitude, Field says, and the pilots were lucky to have an open surface straight ahead, with no treelines or trenches to worry about. (The Moskva River was to their right, but its winding path wouldn’t have made for an easy touchdown.) Field also says the pilots were wise to leave the landing gear up. On an unpaved surface, the wheels could have sunk into the ground and risked flipping the aircraft.
The Kremlin plans to nominate both pilots for state awards, according to The New York Times, and the Ministry of Agriculture will assess the damage to the cornfield.