Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Friday the pilots of an Ural Airlines plane the highest civilian honor: “Hero of the Russian Federation” for their “courage and heroism” in performing official duties in extreme conditions.
Putin also awarded crew members with the “Order of Courage” award for their “courage and dedication” shown in the performance of duties in extreme conditions.
The honors came after Captain Damir Yusupov safely landed an Airbus jet Thursday with full fuel tanks in a cornfield after it hit a flock of birds seconds after takeoff from an airport in southeast Moscow.
Yusupov made the decision after the jet lost power to both engines. That decision saved the lives of all 226 passengers and seven crew on board, including two pilots.
The Ural Airlines Airbus-A321 aircraft headed from Zhukovsky International Airport in Moscow to Simferopol in Crimea, belly-flopped without chassis in a field near the Ramenskoye settlement about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the airport.
The landing did not cause any fatalities but dozens of passengers were slightly wounded.
Ural Airlines announced each passenger would be compensated 100,000 Russian rubles ($1,500).
Russian media hailed Yusupov as a hero alongside Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways captain who in 2009 diverted his plane into New York’s Hudson River in Manhattan after a similar bird strike, saving all 155 people on board.
Yusupov said he noticed the “unstable engine function” of the left engine and decided on an emergency landing at Zhukovsky Airport — flying on a single engine. But shortly after the right engine “failure” he changed his mind and landed the passenger aircraft in the cornfield.
Engine power was not enough to continue the flight, “even to maintain the altitude,” he told Russia-1 news channel.
“The height was not significant. Initially, there was a decision to turn around, land the plane. But when I saw that the second engine also failed, I had a decision to land the plane in a field just in front of me,” he said.
He decided to land the plane without its landing gear because of the risk the plane could “roll over,” ending with much worse consequences.
“I tried to land the plane softly so that the touchdown came with a minimum vertical speed,” he said.
Yusupov thanked co-pilot Georgy Murzin who assisted with the landing, as well as the crew for their professionalism during the incident and for successfully evacuating passengers via the emergency chutes.
“Many people say that I am a hero, but to be honest, I don’t feel like a hero at all, because I did what I had to do: saved the plane, passengers, crew,” he added.