It’s the terrifying moment that every airplane pilot fears most. You’re just seconds into what should be a routine flight when both of the engines start failing without any warning. Now, you have the responsibility of landing the aircraft safely to save the lives of all 233 passengers on board.
That’s exactly the nightmare scenario that Georgy Murzin and Damir Yusupov faced in 2019. The pilots came into trouble when their Ural Airlines Airbus A321-101 struck a flock of birds just moments after take-off. So, just 750 feet in the air, the pair had to think quickly to avoid a tragedy.
Thankfully, those aboard the flight from Zhukovsky International Airport in Moscow to the Crimean capital of Simferopol were in safe hands. Yes, incredibly every passenger managed to exit the aircraft with their lives intact. Here’s a look at the remarkable story which has been hailed as the Miracle on the Ramenskoe.
Born in the Russian town of Igarka, Damir Yusopov dreamed of a career as a pilot from a young age. He was no doubt inspired by his father, a man who captained a helicopter. However, his ambitions were put on hold when he failed to pass the required medical examination to attend flight school.
Yusupov subsequently embarked on a career in the legal world instead. He reportedly worked for Syzran’s regional government until the age of 33, serving as an assistant director for the area’s mortgage and housing fund. However, despite his early setback, Yusupov never gave up on his dream of becoming a pilot.
According to the Russian press, Yusupov managed to land a place at the Buguruslan Summer Civil Aviation School at 32 years of age. After graduating with honors, he continued his studies at the St. Petersburg State University of Civil Aviation. In 2013 he was offered a position at Ural Airlines.
Yusopov was tasked with flying aircrafts across countries such as China, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and, of course, Russia. And he’s actually flown notable passengers over the years, including soccer club Rubin Kazan and the Russian figure skating squad. However, his roughly 3,000 hours spent piloting in a professional capacity aren’t all that significant. In fact, they represent a mere double the 1,500 hours typically needed to captain an aircraft.
In fact, Yusopov had only been appointed first pilot in 2018, just a year before manning the flight that put him in the headlines. This was also the same year that he graduated from the Ulyanovsk Civil Aviation Institute with a degree in aeronavigation. Yusupov might not have been as experienced as his fellow Ural Airlines pilots, but he was nonetheless reportedly well respected.
“A very good, courageous, very responsible, kind individual with a good sense of humor.” That’s how one flight attendant who’d previously worked with Yusopov chose to describe the pilot in an interview with E1. But, of course, Yusopov wasn’t the only man to be hailed as a hero on that fateful day.
Indeed, Yusopov was assisted in the cockpit by 23-year-old Georgy Muruzin. This younger co-pilot had graduated just two years earlier from the Buguruslan Flight School of Civil Aviation, the same school that Yusopov had previously attended. Muruzin had significantly fewer hours’ experience up in the air by the time of the dramatic flight, supposedly around 600.
The eventful, news-making day which the two men found themselves a part of was, of course, August 15, 2019. Yusupov and Muruzin were undoubtedly expecting to pilot a routine Ural Airlines flight from Moscow’s Zhukovsky Airport to Simferopol. However, this proved to be anything but the case as, within seconds of take-off, a catastrophe started to unfold.
The history of the aircraft in question – the Airbus A321-211 – was already of interest. Initially built for MyTravel Airways 16 years previously, it had ultimately been rejected by this particular company. Instead, it was picked up by Cyprus Turkish Airlines, before moving again in 2010 to AtlasGlobal. Then, after a brief stint with Solaris Airlines, it transferred in 2011 to Ural Airlines.
Fast forward to August 2019, and passengers aboard the plane had become aware that something was seriously wrong. In fact, one anonymous man started filming the drama on his phone after the plane began to violently shake. He told state television in Russia that he began to realize things were amiss immediately after take-off.
The passenger said, “Five seconds later, the lights on the right side of the plane started flashing and there was a smell of burning.” But what exactly had happened? Well, the plane first got into trouble when a number of seagulls happened to fly straight into the path of its left engine.
This caused the engine to fail. Furthermore, just as Yusopov and Muruzin were attempting to bring the plane safely back to the runway, they were dealt a second blow. More birds had hit the right engine. This meant that the plane no longer had sufficient propulsion to stay off the ground.
Heading back to the runway was no longer an option, so the pilots were forced to think on their feet. They opted to disengage the two engines and coast along to the open cornfields situated southeast of Zhukovsky Airport. Thankfully, it proved to be an inspired and life-saving decision.
Indeed, the pair somehow managed to land the aircraft in the safest way possible. And luckily, the cabin crew also reacted quickly, guiding each passenger down the emergency slides. Within minutes, the entire aircraft had been evacuated. And remarkably, no one suffered any serious injuries during the terrifyingly makeshift landing.
Of course, there were inevitably some less serious injuries. Initial reports, in fact, suggested that 55 people required medical help at the site of the near-disaster, although this figure was later modified to 74. But only six of these individuals apparently needed to actually be hospitalized for their “moderate” injuries.
Georgy Muruzin, the heroic co-pilot, told a Telegram channel called 112 why Yusupov decided to land the aircraft manually. He said, “After take-off, 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.”
Yusopov’s quick-thinking was applauded by ex-Navy test pilot and aviation advisor Pete Field. In an interview with Wired magazine, he stated that if the Russian had left the plane’s landing gear up, then the wheels may have sunk into the unpaved ground below. This could have then overturned the plane.
But Field also acknowledged that the pilots had a fair bit of luck on their side. Indeed, he told Wired that Yusopov and Muruzin were fortunate to have the option of landing on a relatively clear surface with no obstacles ahead. Had any trenches or trees been in their path, the injury list could have looked very different.
Of course, Field wasn’t the only person to have praised Yusupov for his heroic efforts. In fact, Svetlana Babina, a passenger on board the dramatic flight, told TASS, “After the plane landed, we all applauded the pilot.” And despite ending up several miles from the nearest runway, Babina also claimed that the landing was actually relatively smooth.
Yusopov’s duties didn’t just end with the landing. He also made sure that each and every one of his passengers got off the aircraft safely. A video published by Mash shows the pilot using a megaphone to help with the evacuation process. In the clip, Yusopov can be heard advising passengers to head “to the right, toward the sun, along the rows of corn.”
Yusopov was also lauded by an unnamed fellow pilot from another airline. The man in question revealed to Meduza that the landing was so smooth that it was obvious that the Russian had done his homework when it came to engine failure response. And the plaudits just kept on coming.
In fact, both Yusupov and Muruzin were hailed as heroes by none other than Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov. And governor Evgeny Kuyvashev took to social media platform Instagram to sing the pair’s praises, too. He even stated that the duo should be officially awarded for their quick-thinking heroics.
And it appears as though the Russian president had been listening to such calls. A day after the landing took place, Putin gave both Yusopov and Muruzin the prestigious title of Hero of Russia. And he didn’t forget the other crew members, either. All the staff, in fact, were honored with the Order of Courage for getting the passengers safely off the aircraft.
It may be a while before the flight staff aboard the near-disastrous flight see the inside of a plane again. In fact, they’ve been ordered to take a break until the investigation of the landing has been fully carried out. This is a normal practice when something of this magnitude has taken place, according to a representative for the airline.
Yusupov, it seems, is more than happy with this particular arrangement. Indeed, in an interview with Radio Free Europe, the pilot revealed that he’ll be enjoying his unexpected break until the investigation has been conducted. But he also claimed that he doesn’t believe his actions were in any way heroic.
A modest Yusopov insisted that the events of that day were all just part and parcel of his job. He said, “I wasn’t afraid. I did what I had to do… I saved the plane, the passengers, the crew. I think that was the only decision. I don’t think I’m a hero.”
Yusupov appeared equally as calm when he first called his partner after the incident. Phoning from an unidentified number, the pilot simply told his spouse that “everything’s okay” and that “everyone’s alive.” Yusopov also has two kids with spouse Natalia, who he actually met aboard a flight when he was a passenger.
Despite Yusupov’s insistence that he was only doing his job, the Russian press still hailed the incident as the Miracle on the Ramenskoe. The town of Ramenskoe is, of course, where the cornfields that the plane landed in were situated. And many feel that the Yusopov’s efforts were similar to those of another heroic pilot across the Atlantic.
In 2009 an airliner got into difficulty when geese flew into its engines after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles were forced to land on the Hudson River following the incident. The so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” was later adapted into a Hollywood feature film starring Tom Hanks.
It appears as though the Miracle on the Ramenskoe may be heading for the big screen, too. Indeed, director Alexander Mitta has expressed an interest in recreating the dramatic incident for a full-length feature film. And Mitta has form when it comes to such fare. He was responsible for 1980’s Air Crew, a disaster movie filmed in the Soviet Union.
However, not everyone believes Yuposov and his colleagues deserve to be hailed as heroes. Each crew member aboard the Airbus A321 has been blacklisted by the Ukrainian non-governmental organization known as Myrotvorets. The controversial Ukrainian site accused them of “on multiple occasions making illegal crossings of the state border of Ukraine.”
So, what exactly happened to the aircraft following its dramatic emergency landing? Well, sadly the Airbus A321 was irreparably damaged during the incident. Ural Airlines later confirmed that it would be cut up for scrap, making it the sixth time that this particular Airbus model had suffered such a fate.
Ultimately, a big question needed to be answered in the wake of the incident. That is, could the cause of the engines failing have been avoided? Well, it seems as though the increase of birds near the site is definitely a man-made problem. In 2012 the managers of a nearby waste site were taken to court over their handling of illegal dumping. This particular practice had been cited as the reason for a noticeable influx of birds close to Zhukovsky Airport’s runway.
Although the site’s managers weren’t found guilty, they decided to stop storing or sorting any household waste at this location. Instead, they now compact and transfer the waste to be disposed at other sites. However, these practices are still carried out in the open air – and not far from the runway.
Following the Flight 178 incident, a Zhukovsky Airport air traffic controller issued a statement. This read, “We issue warnings to every departing aircraft. The birds come to sit on the runway. There’s the river and the dump nearby, so they’re here constantly.” And thankfully, the Federal Air Transport Agency also appears to be recognizing that there’s a major problem.
In September 2019 – just a month after the near-disaster – the organization known as Rosaviatsiya announced plans to work with law enforcement on the issue. The legality of any waste dumping close to any airport in the country would be examined. And they would also monitor the regularity of bird inspections near every airport, too.
Rosaviatsiya is also helping the Interstate Aviation Committee with the investigation into the Flight 178 incident. The French Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile and the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch are assisting with the proceedings, too. Fortunately for all involved, both the flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been salvaged.