Airbus A320

From shortly after takeoff on Thursday evening, the pilots of an S7 Airlines Airbus A320 heading from Magadan (Sokol) to Novosibirsk in Russia were forced to fight for their survival and that of their crew and 200 passengers as the single-aisle Airbus started to go out of control. S7, formerly Siberia Airlines, has a fleet of 105 aircraft and flies to 150 destinations.

Preparations for Thursday’s flight had started normally, with the ground crew deicing the plane’s surfaces, paying special attention to the wings and tail surfaces. S7 pilots are, as you might guess, all too familiar with cold-weather operations, but they had no way of knowing what kind of challenge they would be up against that night.

Once they encountered control issues (a phrase no pilot wants to hear) shortly after departure, the pilots had to figure out what to do. Making it pretty was clearly not in the cards, as the plane and its occupants suffered through extreme departures from what we think of as controlled flight. Picture one of those terrible C-grade Hollywood movies that show an airliner out of control, with baggage bins coming open, carry-ons floating through the cabin and oxygen masks dropping. It was that kind of awful.

And it lasted for more than an hour. The crew initially tried to land back at Magadan twice, but were wildly unsuccessful, so they went flying, banging wildly as they made their way along at lower altitudes than jets ever fly during cruise, and eventually successfully landing at Irkutsk, near Lake Baikal, where warmer temperatures allowed the ice to subside, and the crew was able to make a normal landing.

No one was injured, but Russian authorities are already looking into why the plane went out of control, with much of the speculation centered on whether or not the deicing fluid was good, or if it was, if there were irregularities in the amount that was applied, or the time between its application and when the flight departed.


For more on flying in icy conditions, click here: Flight Into Known Icing (FIKI) Approval Is Not Enough