Air India flight Russia Magadan
The passengers have reportedly been housed in a school close to the airport and the Indian embassy has been contacted for food and other essentials | Pic courtesy: Twitter/Dipankar Niranjan

Air India to send ‘ferry flight’ for 232 flyers, crew stranded in remote Russian town

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Air India will send a “ferry flight” to pick up 216 passengers and 16 crew members stranded in Russia’s Magadan after their AI173 Delhi-San Francisco flight developed a snag in one of its engines and was forced to land in the remote Russian port town on Tuesday (June 6).

The aircraft will take off from Mumbai at 1 pm, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced on Wednesday (June 7). It will fly the passengers to San Francisco in the US. However, the airline said in a statement it was waiting for “regulatory clearances” for the replacement flight, which “will carry food and other essentials” for the passengers.

Passengers housed in school dorms

Magadan, a port town, is over 10,000 km from Russia’s capital Moscow, and has “infrastructural limitations”, according to the airline’s tweet. While Air India said all passengers have been moved to “makeshift accommodation” after sincere efforts to put them up in hotels failed, NDTV reported that many were housed in dormitories.

“As we do not have Air India staff based in the remote town of Magadan or in Russia, all ground support being provided to passengers is the best possible in this unusual circumstance…,” wrote the airline. It added that it was doing so with the help of the Indian Consulate General in Vladivostok (around 4,900 km from Magadan), the Ministry of External Affairs, and the Russian authorities.

However, an Associated Press report quoted Girvaan Kaahma, a 16-year-old passenger as saying that they were barred from leaving the hostel where they have been put up and could not use their credit cards to buy items from the vending machine because of sanctions on Russia because of the Ukraine war.

NDTV quoted a passenger as describing the situation as “challenging”. According to this passenger, children and elderly people were having the worst of it. Many had to sleep on mattresses on the floor in a school, with poor toilet facilities. The language barrier and the lack of vegetarian food have become a problem for many. Many elderly people are running short of medicines, the passenger told NDTV. However, he added that the Russian authorities have been nice to the passengers.

Close watch by US, India

The Civil Aviation Ministry has said Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia is closely monitoring the situation and the ministry is in touch with the airline. Media reports quoted the ministry as saying the passengers have been moved to a school close to the airport and the Indian embassy has been contacted for food and other essentials.

The United States, too, is closely watching the situation, considering its strained relationship with Russia and the likelihood of US citizens being among the passengers, US State Department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told journalists in Washington. Patel, however, did not have any information on how many US citizens were aboard the flight.

According to reports, Russian aviation agency Rosaviation has granted permission to Air India to send a replacement aircraft to Magadan.

Pros and cons of using Russian airspace

Russia has banned several western countries from operating in its airspace, but carriers like Air India continue to fly over Russia, giving them a huge time and cost advantage. However, it comes with its own set of disadvantages, one of which is currently evident.

Only on Monday, Air India CEO Campbell Wilson had defended the airline’s use of Russian airspace, noting the critical role the industry plays in connecting economies, people, and cultures. “We operate according to the ambit of what is provided to us by the nation of India and not all nations agree,” he said at the International Air Transport Association annual meeting.

Also read: Air India aircraft deal: Easy part done, task is to boost service, manage fleet

The AI173 flight was a wide-body Boeing 777 that developed a snag in one of its engines and forced to land in Magadan. However, it was not immediately revealed exactly what kind of problem the $200-million, high-profile, US-built plane developed.

(With agency inputs)

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