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How stranded Air India passengers are faring in remote Magadan

June 07, 2023 18:34 IST

The 232 people on board the Air India flight from Delhi to San Francisco that made an emergency landing on Tuesday are stranded in Russia's remote town of Magadan, a key transit point of the infamous Gulag which was a major instrument of political repression during the Stalin era in the erstwhile Soviet Union.

IMAGE: Air India flight passengers stay at makeshift accommodation in a nearby school after it had to land at the Sokol Airport in Magadan, Russia following a technical snag, June 7, 2023. Photograph: PTI Photo

Flight AI173 was diverted to Magadan on Tuesday due to an engine glitch in the Boeing 777-200 LR aircraft.


The flight, carrying 216 passengers and 16 crew, landed safely, the Tata Group-owned private carrier said in a statement Tuesday evening.

An airport spokesperson told Russia's official Sputnik news agency that all the passengers are foreign citizens, including over 40 US nationals and several citizens of Canada.

"Specialists concluded after inspecting the airplane that another aircraft was needed to continue the flight. The travellers were cleared through customs and brought to hotels in Magadan and provided with food," the state-owned TASS news agency reported.

Air India on Wednesday sent a ferry flight -- carrying food and other essentials -- to Magadan to fly the passengers bound for San Francisco, who are currently stranded.

The airline said the aircraft operating the ferry flight will take all passengers and crew onward to San Francisco on June 8.

It said that a team from the airline is also on board the flight to provide any support that the passengers and staff at GDX may require.

The ferry flight is carrying essentials in addition to a sufficient amount of food to cater to all passengers on the onward flight scheduled from Magadan to San Francisco, Air India said.

Given the infrastructural limitations around the remote airport, "we can confirm that all passengers were eventually moved to a makeshift accommodation, after making sincere attempts to accommodate passengers in hotels locally with the help of local government authorities," Air India said in an earlier statement.

Magadan is located on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk in northeastern Russia and falls under the administrative centre of Magadan Oblast. The port town is about 10,167 km from Moscow. It takes around 7 hours and 37 minutes to reach Magadan from Moscow by air.

Citing minister of transport of the Magadan region Aleksey Siorpas, Sputnik reported that all the passengers were accommodated at a school near the airport and women with children or pregnant women were accommodated in the dormitory of a medical college in the city.

All of them were provided with meals, and the situation was explained to them, Siorpas said, adding, however, that the passengers could not leave the premises of their places of accommodation as Russian border guards were with them.

Transport prosecutor of Magadan Region Vitaly Druppov told Sputnik news agency that all the passengers have been provided with warm blankets and meals, adding that the regional and airport authorities have done everything that depended on them.

The climate in Magadan is harsh, with short summers, which accounts for the period of "white nights" that persist throughout the summer: a time when the sun barely sets below the horizon.

Given the infrastructural limitations around the remote airport, "We can confirm that all passengers were eventually moved to a makeshift accommodation, after making sincere attempts to accommodate passengers in hotels locally with the help of local government authorities," Air India said.

It noted that the airline does not have a staff based in the remote town of Magadan or in Russia, and the support that is being provided to the passengers "is the best possible in this unusual circumstance."

This support is being provided through the airline's round-the-clock liaison with the Consulate General of India in Vladivostok, India's Ministry of External Affairs, local ground handlers, and the "Russian authorities", it said.

Air India said it engaged with the local authorities at Magadan Airport that extended all cooperation and support upon the flight's arrival there.
Russia's air transport regulator said there were four infants on the flight.

Meanwhile, the US said it was closely monitoring the situation.

"We are aware of a US-bound flight that had to make an emergency landing in Russia and are continuing to monitor that situation closely. I'm not able to confirm how many US citizens were aboard the flight at this time," State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters at his daily news conference on Tuesday.

"It was a flight that was bound for the United States. So, it is, of course, likely that there are American citizens on board," Patel said in response to a question.

When asked if the US would allow the export of parts for the repair of the Boeing aircraft that may need exemptions in view of the various embargoes and sanctions on Russia, the spokesman said, "I'm just not going to speculate on that here. And of course, we'll let Air India speak to any steps that they're taking as it relates to mitigating the technical issues."

The Gulag was the government agency in charge of the Soviet network of forced labour camps which were set up by the order of Vladimir Lenin, the first and founding head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1924 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924.

It reached its peak during Joseph Stalin's rule from the 1930s to the early 1950s.

Magadan was founded in 1929 as a base for transferring Gulag prisoners who arrived by sea to work at the Kolyma gold mine.

Under Stalin's rule, the Kolyma Gulag became the most notorious region for the Gulag labour camps.

Tens of thousands or more people died en route to the area or in the Kolyma's gold mining, road building, lumbering, and construction camps between 1932 and 1954.

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