MOSCOW (AFP) - Siberian air passengers had to get out and push their plane in temperatures of minus 52 degrees C after its chassis froze, Russian prosecutors said Wednesday.
The extraordinary story emerged after a passenger posted a video on YouTube showing a group of cheery travellers pushing the Tupolev plane along the snow-covered runway in Igarka, which is beyond the Arctic Circle.
“Let’s go,” passengers in thick winter coats shout and whoop as they grab the wings of the plane and shove it several metres along the runway.
“Everyone wants to go home,” one man says.
Transport prosecutors in western Siberia said they were investigating the incident, which took place on Tuesday.
“Due to the low air temperatures, the chassis’s brake system froze and a tow truck was unable to move the plane onto the taxiway to carry out the flight,” prosecutors said in a statement. “The passengers on board got out of the plane and started pushing it onto the taxiway.”
The technical director of Krasnoyarsk-based Katekavia, Vladimir Artyomenko, told the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily that the plane had been immobilised because the pilot forgot to take off the parking brake when he left the plane.
“That caused the brake pads to freeze up,” he said. Passengers pushed the plane until it was able to turn and then the tow truck took over, he said. The flight then took off and went smoothly.
The plane with 74 passengers on board was flying from Igarka, around 2,800km northeast of Moscow, to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.
Even for Russians inured to long winters of sub-zero temperatures, the passengers’ can-do chutzpah has drawn awed admiration.
“Siberians are so tough that for them pushing a frozen plane along a runway is a piece of cake,” said the popural Komsomolskaya Pravda daily.
Social media too was abuzz with praise for the passengers, who were oil workers heading home.
“Who mentioned sanctions?... We just push together and off we fly,” Dmitry Kozlov wrote on Twitter, referring to the Western economic restrictions imposed on Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
“It’s just an ordinary morning in Russia. People push-start a plane at minus 50,” a user who identifies himself as Lentach tweeted.
The airport’s director, however, suggested that the passengers had decided to push the plane for a joke.
“Most likely, the plane’s passengers, oil workers, decided to do a kind of ‘selfie’. It was a good joke and it became a big thing on the Internet,” said Maxim Aksyonov, quoted by the TASS agency.
Prosecutors warned that the stunt could have been dangerous.
“They were pushing the plane as if it was a car that lost traction, which you categorically should not do due to the danger of damaging the skin of the fuselage,” said Oksana Gorbunova, an aide to transport prosecutors, cited by Interfax news agency.