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Russian Plane Forced to Land on Frozen River as Malfunctions Soar

by Staff

An investigation has been launched after a Russian passenger plane landed on a frozen river near an airport in Russia’s far east on Thursday.

The Soviet-era Polar Airlines Antonov-24 missed the runway due to a “crew error in piloting the aircraft” and landed on the Kolyma river near Zyryanka in the Yakutia region, the East Siberian Transport Prosecutor’s Office said, citing preliminary data.

The plane had 30 passengers and four crew members on board. There were no casualties, and the aircraft was not damaged, officials said.

There have been a vast number of cases in recent months of Russian domestic passenger planes making emergency landings due to technical issues, driven by a lack of spare parts, although it isn’t yet clear what the cause of Thursday’s incident was.

Newsweek has contacted Russia’s Foreign Ministry for comment via email.

Russian investigators have launched a probe into why the Antonov-24 plane deviated from the runway. The Investigative Committee is looking into potential violations of traffic safety rules and the operation of air transport, local news outlets reported.

The Baza Telegram channel, which has links to Russia’s security services, reported that the pilots operating the aircraft did not see the runway, missed and landed on the frozen river.

It’s not the first time a Russian plane has landed in an unusual location in recent months.

In September, a Ural Airlines Airbus 320 that was flying from the Black Sea resort of Sochi to the city of Omsk in southwestern Siberia attempted to make an emergency landing at the airport in the city of Novosibirsk, but had to land in open countryside.

Russia’s aviation agency Rosaviatsia said the landing took place “on a site selected from the air” near the village of Kamenka, next to a forest in the Novosibirsk region. It added that none of the 159 people on board was injured and that the passengers were “being housed in the nearest village,” Newsweek previously reported. Ural Airlines described the landing area an “improvised airport.”

The plane has yet to be retrieved, and Russian authorities have since built a fence around the aircraft, images circulating on social media last month showed. Ural Airlines CEO Sergey Skuratov previously said that the plane’s removal would take at least one month.

Russia’s aviation industry has been hard hit by Western sanctions imposed over President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian-operated planes have been sanctioned by the U.S. government, and aircraft manufacturers have stopped delivering spare parts and new planes to the country.

This has meant that the planes have continued to fly without receiving crucial software upgrades and mandated maintenance checks required to guarantee their airworthiness, Bloomberg reported in March.

An employee passes by an Antonov-24 aircraft at Donetsk airport, Ukraine, 8 December, 2006. An investigation has been launched after a Russian passenger plane landed on a frozen river near an airport in Russia’s far east on Thursday.
Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images

Data compiled by Newsweek shows that from September 2023 to December 8, 2023, Russia saw a total of 60 commercial aviation incidents that involved emergency landings, engine fires and malfunctions, along with other technical issues forcing the planes to abandon their intended routes.

There were 15 incidents in September; 25 in October; 12 in November; and eight by December 8, Newsweek found. Newsweek’s estimates are likely to be on the lower end of the scale, given that not all Russian aircraft incidents are reported publicly.

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