August 21st, 1963. 45 passengers got ready for their flight from Tallinn to Moscow-Vnukovo. The flight, performed by a Soviet TU-124 of Aeroflot, departed at 08:55, accompanied by 7 crew members. Captain of the flight was 27-year-old Victor Mostovoy.
Shortly after take-off in the then still Soviet Tallinn, the first problems appeared: The nose gear could not be retracted. Captain Mostovoy then decided to abort the flight. Due to thick fog at Tallinn airport, however, landing there proved impossible, so the flight was diverted to Leningrad airport. There he wanted to land the plane on the dirt runway of Pulkovo airport - if necessary without any gear.
Shortly afterwards, the Tu-124 turned several loops at an altitude of 500 meters above Leningrad to burn kerosene for a safe landing. However, a faulty fuel gauge in the cockpit caused the crew to burn far too much fuel. On the eighth and last circuit, while 20 km from the airport, the no. 1 engine flamed out. A little later, the right engine also gave up, right above the city center.
At around 13 kilometers, the runway is too far away - so Captain Mostovoj made a risky decision: He wants to land the plane on the Neva River, which flows through Leningrad and is about 300 meters wide in the targeted area. The Tupolev descended upstream. Immediately after a turn, the aircraft glided over the high steel structures of the Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge with approximately 30 m of clearance. It then flew over the Alexander Nevsky Bridge – under construction at the time – barely missing it and finally, with the tail first, it ditched on the Neva. None of the 52 passengers are seriously injured. A tugboat from 1898, which happened to be sailing nearby, headed towards the airplane immediately. The boat captain smashed the cockpit window of the Tupolev and tied a tow rope around the control column of the aircraft. He then pulled the Tupolev wreckage ashore, where passengers and crew were able to leave the plane safely.
Captain Mostovoj and his crew received a medal. Mechanical failure and contaminated kerosene are suspected as the cause of the crash. The crew was cleared of any co-responsibility for the incident; a detailed investigation of the events did not take place. The heroic act had already spread too much among the people for the Tupolev crew to be called to account for a mistake.
The captain of the tugboat received a watch as a token of gratitude - in the USSR, a typical gift for deserving citizens.
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