ISTANBUL • A Ukrainian pilot has been hailed a hero and awarded the country's national medal for courage after he safely landed a passenger plane following a freak hailstorm over Turkey which smashed its windscreen.
Captain Alexander Akopov was forced to execute a "blind" landing in low visibility at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport last Friday.
The 121 passengers and six crew members on board were unhurt.
According to The Telegraph, the Cyprus-bound Airbus A-320 operated by Turkish airline AtlasGlobal had just taken off from the airport when it was battered by golf ball-sized hailstones at above 1,300m from the ground.
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The windscreen was shattered, leaving the pilots unable to see, and prompting Captain Akopov to turn the plane around and head back to Istanbul.
A video of the landing, which has since gone viral on Facebook with nearly six million views, contained audio of anxious airport employees who expressed doubt that the plane would be able to land safely.
Its landing was greeted by applause from waiting emergency services.
Another video showed passengers on the plane gripping their seats and screaming due to the plane's rough approach.
Following the incident, Captain Akopov - who relied on instrument readings on the flight deck and radio signals from the airport to make the landing - told local media: "I have been flying for 30 years. Well, did you see the plane landing? Was it okay? The passengers are alive. It is normal. This is our professional reliability.
"Our locator did not show this weather disaster. This is why it happened."
The severe storm in the Turkish city last Thursday evening (Friday morning, Singapore time) left at least 10 people injured. Heavy rain caused flooding, while the hailstones damaged windows and car windscreens.
Captain Akopov also received praise on Twitter from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who later awarded him the country's Order For Courage.
Pilot lands plane 'blind' after hailstorm shatters windscreen
A Ukrainian pilot was literally flying blind when he pulled off an emergency landing in Istanbul, Turkey, last week after a hailstorm shattered his plane's windscreen (above), saving the lives of 121 passengers and six crew members on board. For his heroic act, Captain Alexander Akopov of Turkish airline AtlasGlobal was awarded Ukraine's Order For Courage by President Petro Poroshenko.