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Hero pilot says landing in Russian cornfield ‘was only hope’

World News | Published:

Captain Damir Yusupov, 41, has been praised for his handling of the emergency.

Russia Emergency Landing

A Russian pilot who managed to land his disabled plane in a cornfield after birds hit both engines has said that a quick landing was his only chance.

Captain Damir Yusupov, 41, said when one of the engines shut down after the bird strike on taking off from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport he had hoped to circle the airport and land normally.

But 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 admitted to hospital.

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Damir Yusupov, the 41-year-old Russian pilot, speaks to the media in Yekaterinburg (AP)

Mr Yusupov’s feat on 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,” Mr 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.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the nation’s highest medal, the Hero of Russia, to the pilot and second pilot Georgy Murzin, 23, and bestowed other top awards on the cabin crew.

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“It feels odd and I’m shy,” Mr Yusupov said.

He 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.

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Only one passenger was admitted to hospital (The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation/AP)

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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, Mr 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 are not 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 versus 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 is free of big rocks and trees that could have damaged the plane.

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