MOSCOW — If ever there was a moment to award bonus frequent flier miles, this would seem to be it.
With their plane stuck near the terminal and a tow truck apparently stalled, dozens of passengers at an airport in the Russian town of Igarka, 100 miles north of the Arctic Circle, climbed out on the tarmac on Wednesday to help push the aircraft onto the runway. The temperature was roughly 44 degrees below zero Celsius (47 below zero Fahrenheit).
It was a scene that quickly entered the world’s fast-growing pantheon of legendary YouTube clips, and a spectacle so far-fetched that even by the end of the night there were disputed accounts about whether some or all of it might have been staged, or if the passengers’ efforts were more symbolic than real.
What is clear is this: Some number of the 74 passengers and seven crew members planning to take a charter flight on Katekavia, a division of UTAir airlines, from Igarka to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk were recorded standing on the snow-covered tarmac, pushing the wings of a Tupolev-134 jet, apparently helping the plane roll in reverse toward a runway.
Most Read Life Stories
- Little Saigon might lose 2 big-name restaurants due to lack of walk-in traffic, and 9 other Seattle-area closures
- Fancy Indian food, a hot new vegan place and 25 other new restaurant openings in Seattle
- Rant & Rave: Strangers cover cocktail tab for woman celebrating her divorce
- Sunday Best: Salma Hayek brings double dose of glamour, glitter to her latest premieres
- Make this one-pot matzo ball chicken stew that's ready to comfort
As is often the case after a controversial incident in Russia, there were deeply conflicting accounts as to precisely what — or who — was to blame.
A statement by the West Siberia Transportation Prosecutor (the Russian general prosecutor’s office has a special division to deal with potentially criminal transit mishaps) said that the braking system on the landing gear had frozen, and what officials called a tow truck, which actually pushes the plane with a metal arm, had stalled.
“Passengers got off the plane and began to push it on the taxiway,” according to the statement, which added that prosecutors “will assess the legality of the actions of all those involved.”
Oksana A. Gorbunova, a spokeswoman for the transport prosecutor, told the Tass news agency that the effort by the passengers — described as workers for a local oil company — was “more like a joke” and took place after they were asked to disembark from the plane while it was moved.
With the plane’s wings nearly 6 feet off the ground, Gorbunova said that passengers had to stretch just to reach up and touch them. Budging the approximately 70-ton aircraft by hand was simply not possible.
“In order to deliver the plane to the taxiway, the passengers were invited to leave the plane and move to a bus parked nearby,” Gorbunova said. “After that, some of them arbitrarily left the bus and approached the plane trying to assist with the use of physical force.”
Air safety in Russia is no laughing matter, particularly among regional airlines, which often rely on aging Soviet-era fleets and have had a spotty record over the years. Even now, at a time when the national carrier, Aeroflot, has one of the most modern fleets in the industry and is celebrated for excellent customer service, Russian passengers routinely applaud loudly after every safe landing.
In the case of the charter plane in Igarka, the technical director of the airline, Vladimir Artemenko, told the Interfax news agency that there was never anything wrong with the plane and blamed the truck for the problems.
In any event, the aircraft eventually took off and completed the roughly three-hour flight south to Krasnoyarsk, a regional capital in Siberia — by all accounts, without passenger assistance.