A Ural Airlines Airbus A321 performed a crash landing in a cornfield shortly after takeoff from Zhukovsky Airport outside Moscow while en route to Simferopol Thursday. Although all 233 people on board survived the accident, officials reported more than 70 injuries.
Ural Airlines Flight U6178 to Simferopol, the earliest flight on Zhukovsky Airport’s departure timetable, flew into a flock of gulls during climb about a kilometer from the end of the runway. The crew cut fuel flow to both engines and performed a wheels-up landing onto the cornfield, located within five kilometers of the airport’s fence near the village of Rybaki in the Moscow River valley.
Authorities have removed the flight recorders from the wreckage for analysis. At takeoff, the airplane weighed 82 tonnes and carried 16 tonnes of fuel. After investigators complete their work at the location of the accident sometime next week, crews will empty the airplane’s tanks, then detach the engines and wings and place the fuselage onto a floatable cushion-like platform with a crane for transport to the airport grounds.
The crew, consisting of 41-year-old captain Damir Yusupov, copilot Georgy Murzin, and six cabin crewmembers, won praise from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “swift and resolute actions” that saved passenger lives. Should the ongoing investigation into the crash landing prove the pilots performed well, they will be awarded high state decorations, Medvedev promised. “In any case, the whole story comes with a happy-end: faced with a rather complex situation, the crew did land the airplane,” he said.
The head of Russian civil aviation authority Rosaviatsiya added that the captain’s decision to perform an emergency landing “was the right one” and “the only right choice in the given circumstances.
“I have spoken to the pilots,” he said. “Their actions were correct. They performed skillfully and courageously and thus deserve our praise."
Officials attributed the presence of birds in the vicinity of the airport to the existence of several nearby junkyards where gulls congregate. Russian governmental bodies have begun to investigate the issue. Rosaviatsiya has already promised to introduce stricter measures meant to mitigate bird strikes attributed to junkyards near airports. Gromov’s Flight Test and Research Institute (local acronym LII), which shares the runway with the Zhukovsky Airport, developed the system at the facility that scares off birds. LII insists the system was in working order and activated.
Ural Airlines carried 9 million passengers in 2018, for an increase of 13 percent on the previous year. Its fleet consists of 46 Airbus narrowbodies, including 24 А320s, 16 А321s, five А319s, and one A320neo. Ural airlines took delivery of the neo—the first CFM Leap-powered aircraft in Russia—on August 8.