On October 20, 1986, the seven-man crew of a Tu-134A aircraft departed from Koltsovo Airport (Sverdlovsk in the Urals, Russia) on route to Grozny aboard Aeroflot Flight 6502. To the 85 passengers, it was a routine flight. However, to pilot in command Alexander Kliuyev, the trip needed a little spice.
While approaching a stopover landing at the Kurumoch Airport, co-pilot Gennady Zhirnov proposed an outlandish dare. Kliuyev agreed and made a bet that he could make an instrument-only landing while blindfolded (some reports say the cockpit windows were curtained). At 3:48 PM, at a height of 1,300 feet, flight engineers pulled blinds over the windshield. Foregoing any visual contact or radio-controlled assistance, Kliuyev began his attempt to touch down while flying blind.
At around 215 feet, the aircraft issued a ground proximity warning. Kliuyev ignored the warning and continued his descent with his eyes closed. At 3:50 PM, the aircraft touched the ground at over 170 MPH. Breaking its landing gear on impact, the plane “made a gigantic jump upward”. Its right wing came off and the left wing folded in half. The aircraft rolled over, coming to rest upside down, and burst into flames. Sixty-three people were killed instantly including 4 of the flight crew. Seven more died later at the hospital.
Sergei Churilov, a police patrolman for the city of Samara, recalls the event:
“It was the evening of October 20. I was on duty in the village of Birch when suddenly the radio crackled, “All free cars come to the airport immediately. We need your help. Burning plane at the airport”. When I arrived at the airport, we saw what appeared to be two aircraft broken apart and a large burning wing lying next to the runway. I still remember seeing a woman leaning out from the cabin, handing off a child’s body. I saw the co-pilot climb from the cabin, catch his breath, and climb back into the plane to assist passengers. Meanwhile, firefighters were battling the flames and police were told to disperse 150 meters from the plane and cordon off the area.”
“I shudder to contemplate the horrible scene, the number of dead, the sickening smell of burning flesh, the suffocating smell of burnt skin. You could only stand being inside the craft by wearing a gas mask. I climbed into the cabin body and saw hanging over my head the deceased, still fastened in their seatbelts. In the course of the crash, the airplane had turned over, and all the seats were upside down, as if on the ceiling. I saw a child in a blue suit lying on the floor – that is, on the ceiling which had now become the floor. The child appeared to be breathing and I thought there was a chance it could survive. I was bent over the child when bodies above me began to fall on top of me. Their seatbelts had melted and gave way. Bodies, one after another, began to fall on top of the rescuers.”
Co-pilot Zhirnov, who jumped into action immediately after the crash attempting to assist as many passengers as possible, died of cardiac arrest en route to the hospital. Primary Pilot Kliuyev survived the crash and later claimed he had attempted the landing “to test his flying abilities”. He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison (he was released after six years).
The pictures in the gallery below were taken by Fire Department Chief Karpov. KGB officers arrived on the scene within minutes of the crash and forbad any information leaks about the crash. The pictures Karpov took were smuggled out of the area and surfaced in the public realm several years later.