Tupolev Crash Landing Finds Hero

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The pilots and flight crew of a Tu-154M have been honored by the Russian president, and the story of their emergency landing will be made into a movie, but the involvement of another man, Sergey Sotnikov, has made him a hero of the people. On Sept. 7, 2010, Izhma airfield became the runway of choice for the pilots of the Alrosa Airlines jet after the Tupolev suffered electric system failures that killed its radios and navigation equipment, fuel pumps, and certain controls. The pilots picked the airport out of the surrounding forest, put the aircraft down and overran the short runway by 600 feet. All 80 aboard survived. The airfield had been closed to fixed-wing aircraft since the early 2000s -- and that's where Sotnikov comes in. Sergey Sotnikov had worked at Izhma airfield since 1978, and had risen through the ranks to earn the field's highest position. After the field was partially closed, he maintained Izhma's abandoned runway -- without compensation or approval -- out of his sense of responsibility. In light of the events of Sept. 7, Sotnikov's efforts have earned him the respect and admiration of his countrymen and, recently, even more.

Russian bloggers united and led a campaign to award Sotnikov with a "people's prize" that acknowledged what they called the daily heroism of his work. With no authority to grant him formal recognition, or a government medal, they collected money and recently awarded it to Sotnikov. RT news reports that "Sotnikov turned out to be modest and initially rejected the monetary prize." But when he was told that the people who had contributed would be offended if he did not accept the money, he conceded. According to RT, "he plans to spend the money on renovating the [airport's active] helicopter pads."