A Russian passenger jet that made a spectacular emergency landing at a deserted tiny airfield in Siberia six months ago performed another amazing feat on Thursday by escaping from its captivity in the taiga.
When the aging Tu-154 airliner with 81 people onboard pulled off a safe landing in Siberian forest last September after complete mid-flight power failure, experts described it as a miracle. With no navigation gear working, the pilots glided down their airliner from its cruising altitude to a long abandoned airfield that was no longer marked on the maps. The 80-tonne aircraft hit the landing strip built for small aircraft at a high speed after its wing flaps failed, overran the tarmac and tore through 100 metres of forest brush before coming to rest. None of the passengers or crew sustained any injury. When rescue workers from the nearby village of Izhma arrived at the scene, they saw passengers hunting for mushrooms around the stricken airliner. The crew were all given state awards for saving the passengers' lives.
Though the plane suffered only minor damage to its engines, wings and landing gear, experts thought it would most probably be written off and remain on site. Even if the aircraft could be pulled out of the marshland where it was sitting, they said, it would not be able to take off from the 1320-metre runway, which is 900 metres short of what the Tu-154 needs for safe operation.
However, the aircraft owners, Alrosa Airline, which belongs to the state diamond monopoly Alrosa, decided to rescue the Tu-154. They dragged the plane out of the swamp, replaced the engines damaged by tree branches, fixed the landing gear and riveted metal patches onto dented wings.
On Thursday morning the Tu-154, filled with just enough fuel to make it to the nearest airport 170 km away, took off from the Izhma airfield after a ground run of 800 metres only. The salvaged Tu-154 is of the same design as the plane that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other people in a forest near Smolensk in April.