Do you know this man? This is Sergey Sotnikov, and he was the manager of a helipad in a small village named Izhma. Some time ago Izhma was a regional airport, but in 1998 the final flight departed and Izhma became just a helipad. Nethertheless, Sergey was dedicated to keeping it’s now disused runaway in good shape, just in case. That “case” came in 2010, when a Tupolev 154 with 81 people onboard landed on this deserted runaway.
What happened in the sky?
Tupolev 154 of Alrosa departs Udachny (“lucky” in russian) bound for Moscow. At 6:57, when the airplane was cruising at 10600 meters, suddenly, all the power went out, leaving plane with no communication, no navigation and 30 minnutes of fuel in the wings. Pilots descend to 3000 meters and try to start APU, but the fuel pumps to the APU don’t have power. This means they would have to land the metal bird somewhere deep in Siberian tundra. River is brushed off quite fast because of the rocks. Then, on 3rd loop, the unthinkable happens. A runaway in the woods in good condition. At this point they don’t care about the length or surface, because all the other variants are much worse. Moment later, the plane stops, people in the cabin are confused, but they are alive.
You aren’t drunk
Volodya Terentyev, a friend of Sergey and an alcoholic, went out to the woods near the airport for mushrooms. But then, a calm northern morning interrupted by something white and noisy, something, which cut the trees like a razor. Volodya shocked by what he have witnessed, gave himself a promisse not to ever drink again. At the same time a friend of Sergey called him to say, that a Tupolev is trying to land at his airport. Sergey said, that it was probably just meteorologists collecting data. But then the meteorologist called and said “Mikhalich, a plane landed at your airport, welcome the guests!”. Sergey was speechless and drove to the airport as fast as his old Niva could. There, he saw something he could not have ever imagined: a TU 154, half of which was in the woods and flight crew and pale flight crew, smoking and not fully understanding what just happened. On that day, the whole world have heard of Izhma, because the story was a miracle from start to finish, but the one which is actually true.
“This plane caused us a lot of stir” - remembers Sergey.
And then, on March 24th next year, after extensive repairs, calculations and weight reduction, the plane took off, made a loop around the city to say goodbye and flew to refuel at Ufa before eventually landing at Samara for extensive maintenance.
Sergey always wanted to be a pilot, but he didn’t become one. Not because of his health or knowledge - because of his birthmark, which made him unable to wear the helmet. At the time, his dad was dead and his mom had 3 kids to take care of, so he didn’t make her pay for the removal of his birthmark. When he finished aviation academy, he was sent to the, at the time, new Izhma airport. At first Sergey didn’t want to stay there for long, but then he got a family here, then they had kids, and Sergey descided to stay. “Izhma is a safe village, we don’t even lock the doors here.”
Answering the question of why he was looking after the long forgotten runaway for 12 years, Sergey says, that there is an unwritten rule in Izhma - if you start something, you should finish it.
But “under his watch” has ended on October 1 last year. The plans many have had for this airport in 2011 have vanished, and so did the enthusiasm. Now Sergey has other plans: build a house, go on vacation to his home, Bashkiria. He hasn’t been on vacation since 2004, because what if medical helicopter will need to land? And so he stayed in the village.