Hero pilot’s heart-stopping emergency landing as he flew completely ‘blind’ to bring 127 tourists safely after golf ball sized hailstones ‘severely damaged’ jet.
Captain Alexander Akopov, who works for the Turkish company, AtlasGlobal, has been awarded the Ukrainian ‘Order For Courage’ after landing the damaged passenger plane at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport during a fierce storm in Turkey on Thursday.
He saved the lives of 121 passengers and 6 crew members by landing the Airbus A320 after challenging winds, rain and hail thrashed the jet’s nose and windscreen.
A video of the speedy landing shows the red and white jet bouncing down the runway as the pilot rushes to get his passengers safely on the ground.
Passengers can be heard crying and praying as the damaged plane veered towards the ground.
Someone behind the camera on the ground can be heard saying: ‘He won’t do it, he won’t do it.’
Sixteen other jets were rerouted from their planned destination of Ataturk airport, Istanbul, the pro-government Anadolu news agency reported.
At least ten people were injured, two of them seriously, when a violent thunderstorm bombarded the city with massive hailstones and immersing much of the city in knee-deep water.
The storm, which lasted only 20 minutes, paralyzed traffic and caused flash floods which flooded cars and buses.
Officials said more than 7,000 emergency workers were deployed to help in the aftermath of the storm which uprooted 230 trees, destroyed 90 roofs and sparked fires across Istanbul.
Capt Akopov said he and other crew were celebrating as if it was a ‘second birthday’ after his life-saving heroics in coping with damage caused by hailstones the size of hen’s eggs, which left a gash in the plane and disabled his auto-pilot.
He said: ‘I have been flying for 30 years. Well, did you see the plane landing? Was it okay? The passengers are alive. It is normal. This is our professional reliability.
‘Our locator did not show this weather disaster, this is why it happened. It was hard, but the main thing is that people are alive.’
The catastrophe hit ten minutes after take-off on a Turkish airline AtlasGlobal flight to Erkan in northern Cyprus.
After the plane had climbed to 1,300 meters, the hailstones cracked the cockpit windows, preventing the pilot from seeing his approach to land.
The captain was given permission to try to land at Ataturk airport, even though it had been closed for other flights due to the vicious weather.
A full-scale emergency response was on standby, with fire appliances and ambulances waiting for the plane.
The video shows a woman with red nails gripping a seat because of the plane’s extreme shaking during the landing.
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called the captain to congratulate him and awarded him with the Ukrainian Order of Courage.
Aviation experts also praised the two Turkish cabin crew members for their bravery.
Mass applause broke out at the airport when Captain Akopov landed the plane.
The pilots of other planes greeted the plane by flashing lights and came aboard to shake the pilots’ hands.
Frightening images from Thursday’s storm also showed a fire raging at a plastic store, in the Kagithane district, following a powerful lightning strike.
The storm came just nine days after Istanbul was pounded by heavy rains and winds of up to 50mph, flooding streets and metro stations and disrupting tram lines, but without causing casualties.
Footage from broadcaster Haberturk showed a city bus half submerged near a bridge in the city’s Unkapani district.
Some of the passengers left the bus and waded through the flooded road while others climbed on top of the bus’s roof.
Dramatic footage on Turkish TV showed waves of hail and rain cascading down the stairs of the Taksim metro station.
Two people were injured when the wall of an old cemetery collapsed near a busy street, the Daily Sabah said.
The municipality is reported to have warned that 50mm of rain would fall, but apocalyptic the scenes suggest that there may have been a misjudgment.
The Daily Sabah added that several buildings and offices were flooded with water as hailstones shattered the windows of cars and homes.
A large crane toppled over at Haydarpasa port, near the southern entrance to the Bosphorus tunnel, caused an explosion which sparked a massive blaze.
At least one person was injured in the fire, which was later brought under control, but hammering rainfall disrupted the evening’s rush hour traffic, stranding vehicles in flooded streets.
NTV television showed people leaving a bus that was stranded in a flooded underpass and walking to safety in waist-high waters. Hail the size of golf balls also damaged some windows and car windshields.
Authorities also shut down the Eurasia Tunnel which connects Istanbul’s Asian and European sides under the Bosporus strait, as a precaution.
The city’s main tram service between the Bagcilar suburb and Kabatas, on the banks of the Bosporus, was also suspended.