The story of Aeroflot Flight 366

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On August 21, 1963, a year-old Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-124 with registration number СССР-45021 made an emergency landing on the Neva River near Leningrad in northwestern Russia. Now often referred to as a “miracle on the Neva”, the short-range twin-engine jetliner operated as Aeroflot flight number 366, a scheduled flight between the Baltic state of Estonia and the Russian capital Moscow.

Piloted by 27-year-old captain Victor Mostovoy, the plane took off from Tallinn-Ülemiste Airport (TLL) at 08:55 a.m. with seven crew members and 45 passengers. After takeoff, the aircraft’s nose gear did not retract. At the time, fog had settled over Tallinn airport, so rather than returning, air traffic control (ATC) told the plane to divert to Pulkovo airport in what is now Saint Petersburg, rather than continuing to Vnukovo International Airport (VKO) in Moscow.

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The pilots flew over the city to burn fuel

At 10:00 a.m., having traveled 192 miles, Flight 366 began circling St. Petersburg at a height of 1,500 while the pilots burned fuel in preparation for an emergency landing. The reason for this was to reduce the weight of the aircraft and to reduce the risk of fire in the event of a crash.

Meanwhile, emergency services at Pulkovo Airport (LED) were setting up for the landing. Driving around town, the crew attempted to force the nose gear to lock into place by pushing it with a pole they had retrieved from the coat closet. On the eighth and final city circuit, while 20 km from the airport, the number one engine cut out due to fuel starvation. Shortly after, the number two engine flamed out as the plane flew over downtown.

The pilots had no choice but to land in the river

Now flying without any power and at an insufficient height to glide towards the airport, the pilots decided to abandon the plane on the Neva River.

Unlike the Hudson River in Manhattan, where Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ditched an Airbus A320, where the distance between New York and New Jersey is just over half a mile, the Neva River in Saint -Petersburg is more than twice its width. As the aircraft turned to line up with the river, it passed over the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge 100 feet ahead before clearing the Nevsky Bridge under construction and landing in the river.

In January 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 was ditched in the Hudson River. Photo: Getty Images

As the plane began to slowly fill with water, a nearby tug rushed to the scene. Once there, the crew smashed the plane’s windshield and attached a cable allowing the tug to tow the plane to shore. During the towing process, all 45 passengers and crew remained on board the plane before escaping through a hatch on the plane’s roof.

About the Tupolev Tu-124

Designed to be a short-to-medium range airliner for Aeroflot, the Tu-124 was the first Soviet airliner to be powered by turbofan engines. First flown on March 24, 1960, the aircraft entered service with Aeroflot in October 1962, where it was deployed on the Moscow-Tallinn route.

Aeroflot was so impressed with the aircraft that by the end of 1962 it was operating all Aeroflot domestic routes. During its production between 1960 and 1965, a total of 164 aircraft were built, several of which were sold to Československé Státní Aerolinie (ČSA) and Interflug in East Germany.


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