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A local lawyer who dreamed of flying The story of Russian pilot Damir Yusupov, who saved 233 lives by landing his plane in a cornfield
On the morning of August 15, an Airbus A321 plane owned by Ural Airlines took off for Simferopol but never arrived. Shortly after leaving the Zhukovsky airport outside Moscow, the plane made an emergency landing with 233 people on board. A flock of seagulls had collided with the jet during takeoff, with birds falling into both engines. One of the engines lost power, and the other caught fire.
Crewmembers landed the plane with both engines turned off, a full tank of fuel, and no landing gear deployed in a cornfield near the village of Rybaki. The emergency landing took place about a kilometer (0.62 miles) from the runway where the plane had just taken off. At the time of this writing, 74 people had requested medical help for injuries sustained during the landing. However, there were no fatalities, and the passengers were evacuated from the cabin using inflatable ramps.
Russian media sources and social media users have compared Damir Yusupov, the captain of the plane, with American pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who landed a flight on the Hudson River in 2009 in an incident that became known as the “miracle on the Hudson.” Sullenberger’s plane had lost power in both engines after a collision with Canada geese.
Damir Yusupov landed the airplane manually
Co-pilot Georgy Murzin told the Telegram channel 112 that Yusupov landed the Airbus A321 in manual mode: “After takeoff, birds fell into the engines. The port engine stalled immediately, and then they fell into the other engine too, and its revolutions became uneven. Then, the second engine stalled, too, there wasn’t enough thrust, and our altitude began dropping rapidly. We landed in a field in manual mode.”
Nevertheless, passenger Svetlana Babina told TASS, the plane landed “smoothly,” and none of the passengers were seriously injured. “After the plane landed, we all applauded the pilot,” she added.
One pilot who knows Yusupov but works in a different airline told Meduza that the quality of the A321’s landing indicates that the pilot trained extensively enough to bring his engine failure response “to the point of automatization.”
The Telegram channel Mash published a video that shows Yusupov addressing passengers through a megaphone following the landing and evacuation, telling them to move “to the right, toward the sun, along the rows of corn.”
Yusupov started flight school only after serving as a public lawyer in the Samara region
Yusupov was born in the city of Igarka in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region. In the 1990s, his family moved to Syzran, the third-largest city in the Samara region, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Interfax reported that the pilot is currently 41 years old.
In 2017, Yusupov said in an interview with the local news site ProPolevskoy that he had loved flying since he was a child: His father was the captain of an Mi-8 helicopter crew. However, when the young Yusupov applied to flight school, he didn’t pass the medical exam and decided to go to law school instead. However, he never lost sight of his dream of flying.
Conflicting information has emerged regarding when Yusupov began his career as a pilot. Komsomolskaya Pravda indicated that he worked as a lawyer in the local government of Syzran until age 33, while Syzran City Hall itself clarified that he worked for the city’s housing and mortgage fund while serving as the assistant director of the city’s autonomous organization for ethnic Tatars. Then, despite his established career, “Damir decided to try his luck again,” ProPolevskoy wrote. The outlet reported that Yusupov enrolled at the Buguruslan Summer Civil Aviation School at age 32 and ultimately graduated with honors. Syzran City Hall indicated that Yusupov began flight school earlier, graduating at age 33.
Then, in 2013, the pilot graduated from the St. Petersburg State University of Civil Aviation, once again with honors, and immediately received a job at Ural Airlines, the company said. In 2018, Yusupov earned yet another degree, this time in aeronavigation, from the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute.
Yusupov pilots Airbus A320, A319, and A321 airplanes and has flown in Russia, China, Central Asia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, and Egypt. A number of athletic teams have been among his passengers, including the Kazan-based hockey team Ak Bars, the soccer team Rubin (also of Kazan), and the Russian national figure skating team. According to Ural Airlines, Yusupov’s total flight time is approximately 3,000 hours (this is a relatively small figure, only twice the amount of time needed to earn the right to captain an airplane).
Yusupov even met his wife, Natalia Yusupova, on an airplane, though he was flying as a passenger at the time. The pair has two children. After Thursday’s emergency landing, Yusupov called his wife from an unfamiliar number and told her “everything’s okay” and “everyone’s alive,” Yusupova told the Yekaterinburg television channel E1. Yusupov’s brother told Komsomolskaya Pravda that Damir had earned the rank of first pilot only one year ago. One former Ural Airlines flight attendant who had worked with Yusupov described him as a “very good, courageous, very responsible, kind individual with a good sense of humor,” according to E1.
Evgeny Kuyvashev, the governor of the region where Ural Airlines is based, posted photographs of Yusupov and his crew on Instagram, calling for them to receive official awards for their actions. Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the airplane’s pilots were heroes.
Yusupov and the rest of the airplane’s crewmembers will be suspended from working additional flights until an investigation of the emergency landing is completed. That is a standard procedure for incidents of this nature, airline representatives told E1.
Translation by Hilah Kohen
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