32 Years Ago an Aeroflot Pilot Bet He Could Land an Airplane Blind. He Couldn’t.

Somehow I wasn’t familiar with the story of Aeroflot flight 6502 from Yekaterinburg to Kuibyshev to Grozny. On October 20, 1986 the pilot of the Tupolev Tu-134A bet his co-pilot that he could land the plane blind. He would draw the curtains on the cockpit windows and make an instrument-only approach.

One of the many bizarre things about this incident is, why would the co-pilot accept a bet in which if he wins he likely dies? There’s only the narrowest window in which he might win the bet and actually collect.

On approach to Grozny the pilot ignored the ground proximity warning. He ignored an instruction to execute a go-around. He touched down at about 172 miles per hour. The plane flipped and ultimately stopped upside down, killing 70 of the 94 souls on board.

On the ground the co-pilot tried to save the lives of passengers on the scene, but died of cardiac arrest himself while being transported to the hospital. The pilot received a 15 year sentence, though reportedly had that reduced to 6 years.

Eight years later, in 1994, the pilot of Aeroflot flight SU593 from Moscow to Hong Kong allowed his 16 year old son sit at the controls. He accidentally disengaged autopilot control of the Airbus A310’s ailerons. That sent the plane into a near vertical dive. While the pilot managed to level off the plane, he stalled the aircraft while pulling up and crashed into mountains in South Siberia.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Moral of the story: fly Aeroflot since they will never allow something similar to happen again.

  2. @ Nope,

    Read the story again. The facts already disprove your brilliant conclusion. Boiled down so you might comprehend: crash from inexcusable idiocy in 1986, another crash from inexcusable idiocy in 1994.

  3. @Trusted traveler – Agreed. One time can be a fluke. Twice is a pattern. Just ask Gary.

  4. Every time some blogger posts about how delighted/surprised/pleased when they flew аэрофлот, I am *immediately* reminded of two things:

    1) The time the аэрофлот pilot let his son fly the plane the crashed in 1994. (I, too, hadn’t heard of the pilot that tried to land “blind.”)
    2) The five times I flew аэрофлот on Tupolev TU-104’s, which were bad upon the Soviet “Badger” bomber (TU-16); it was LOUD, uncomfortable, and before every flight, FAs were passing out a) little, narrow plastic bags so the air pressure wouldn’t cause your fountain pen ink reservoir to explode and ruin your shirt; and b) hard candies prior to landing so the air pressure would cause your eardrums to similarly explode…

    Yeah, sure, Russian аэрофлот isn’t the same airline as the Soviet Union’s аэрофлот. But it’s still аэрофлот…an airline to avoid.

  5. Yep it is a horror story obviously.. But I don’t think it is reasonable to draw conclusions to current AFL. I flew then >100 times and it is one of the best airlines these days. Not best, but clearly in the top league.

  6. Aeroflot was a terrible airline that operated unsafely. These days, they operate safely and the inflight service is good. Turnarounds are possible.

  7. I had the great displeasure of being part of a flight crew with two former Aeroflot pilots (both named Vladimir). They lack the most basic western CRM concepts and thought processes, are rude, demanding, arrogant, disrespectful and ultimately unsafe. If you need any sort of validation here’s one example a a recent risky action https://youtu.be/5GIU94dg1ek

  8. @ Hongry,

    I flew Aeroflot within the former Soviet Union in 1989 and the inflight snack was cold cow’s tongue which the flight attendant hacked from a slab with a cleaver. The only beverage choice was a room temp clear yellow liquid. Hard pass on both.

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