Kremlin lauds 'heroes' who landed plane in cornfield after gull strike

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Pilots to get state awards for safe landing outside Moscow having collided with flock of birds

Passengers flee plane after emergency landing in Russian cornfield – video

The Kremlin has lauded two Russian pilots as heroes and said they would be given state awards after they landed a plane carrying 233 people in a cornfield outside Moscow having struck a flock of birds during takeoff.

The Ural Airlines Airbus 321 came down in a field south-east of Moscow with its landing gear up after colliding with a passing flock of gulls, which disrupted the plane’s engines.

Up to 55 people, including 17 children, were treated for injuries, six of whom were taken to hospital, Russian news agencies quoted the emergencies ministry as saying. State television called the incident “the miracle over Ramensk”, the name of the district near Moscow where the plane came down less than a mile from Zhukovsky international airport.

The Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid praised the pilot Damir Yusupov as a hero, saying he had saved 233 lives “having masterfully landed a plane without its landing gear with a failing engine right in a cornfield”.

Some compared the landing to that of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in New York in 2009 after it struck a flock of geese.

“We congratulate the hero pilots who saved people’s lives,” said the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, adding that the government would see that the men were quickly given state honours. “There’s no doubt about this. They will be given awards,” he said.

Rescuers, passengers and crew members after the emergency landing
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Rescuers, passengers and crew members after the emergency landing. Photograph: Reuters

The plane’s engines were turned off when it made the emergency landing, said Elena Mikheyeva, a spokeswoman for Russia’s civil aviation authority.

Footage shot by passengers showed that the flight lasted less than two minutes and that the engines experienced difficulties almost immediately after takeoff.

Vitya Babin, 11, who was on board with his mother and sister, said passengers were not warned there would be an emergency landing. There was silence in the cabin and then some passengers screamed when it touched down, footage showed.

An unnamed passenger interviewed by state television said the plane started to shake moments after it took off. “Five seconds later the lights on the right side of the plane started flashing and there was a smell of burning. Then we landed and everyone ran away,” he said.

Passengers were evacuated via escape slides and were told to distance themselves from the plane. “One of the stewardesses said there was smoke coming from the plane and we immediately panicked. We ran after one of the men. He said follow me,” Vitya said.

A local resident quoted by the radio station Govorit Moskva said the gulls that struck the plane had probably come from an illegal rubbish dump near the airport. However, Moscow region officials rejected that assertion and said the nearest rubbish dump to the airport was nine miles away, the Tass news agency reported.

The plane was destined for Simferopol in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014.

Safety concerns have plagued Russia’s airline industry since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, though standards are widely recognised to have risen sharply in recent years, particularly on international routes.