Bloggers campaign for unsung hero of miraculous crash landing

Russian bloggers have united in a grassroots campaign to award the head of a tiny and well-kept disused airfield. It became the focus of media attention after an airliner landed there after an electric system failure.

The landing of Tu-154M in Russia’s northern republic of Komi in September was hailed a miracle. The pilots were virtually flying blind, as all the aircraft’s instruments went dead. The runway they were forced to use was too short. Nevertheless they managed, turning the looming disaster into a wondrous salvation of more then 80 lives.

The flight crew were awarded Hero of Russia orders in November. But bloggers believe there is one person who should have received the honor too, and since he did not, they are now gathering money for a “people’s prize”.

The man is Sergey Sotnikov, head of the Izhma airfield, where the unfortunate plane was forced to land. He has been working there since 1978, when he graduated from an aviation engineering school, and rose through the ranks to the highest position.

In the early 2000s, the airfield was officially closed to planes, and only a small part of the facilities remained operational for an occasional helicopter landing. Nevertheless, in his free time Sergey kept maintaining the abandoned runway, which he still considered his responsibility, without any compensation or hope of approval. In September his dedication paid off, when the giant airliner successfully landed in Izhma.

Sergey’s daily heroism is no less worthy than that of the Tu-154M crew members, decided some Russian bloggers. With no authority to award any medal, they decided to at least gather some money for the man.

Sotnikov turned out to be modest and initially rejected the monetary prize. According to organizers of the campaign, the engineer accepted their offer only after they said many people would be offended if he refused. He plans to spend the money on renovating the helicopter pads.