By Ben Schlappig

A Soviet-era airliner landed on a frozen river in Russia. However, it wasn’t an emergency landing, but rather it was reportedly an error?

Polar Airlines Antonov-24 lands on frozen river

This incident happened on Thursday, December 28, 2023, and involves a 52-year-old Polar Airlines Antonov-24 with the registration code RA-47821 (okay, talk about a cool plane, at least!). The turboprop was operating a 688-mile route in Siberia, from Yakutsk (YKS) to Zyryanka (ZKP), with 34 people onboard, including 30 passengers and four crew members.

It’s worth noting that Zyryanka only has a very small airport, with the only air link being this Polar Airlines route from Yakutsk. The airport’s runway is gravel.

The aircraft was on approach to the airport with limited visibility, and the pilots reportedly couldn’t see the runway. Instead of landing on the runway, the plane instead landed parallel to it, on the nearby frozen Kolyma River.

Fortunately there were no casualties or major injuries, and everyone managed to safely evacuate the aircraft. I guess in this case Siberia’s frigid temperatures worked in everyone’s favor.

What caused this incident?

What caused this Polar Airlines aircraft to make a landing like this? Here’s what the Eastern Siberia transport prosecutor had to say:

“According to preliminary information, the cause of the aviation incident was an error by the crew in piloting the aircraft.”

Admittedly with most aviation incidents, we get a full, thorough investigation into what happened, and that might still be coming. That being said, I’m not sure I’d necessarily trust Russia to be honest to the world about the cause of an incident, if it’s anything other than human error (especially with a Russian aircraft involved).

I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering exactly how something like this could happen? The aircraft being flown was a 50+ year old Soviet-era turboprop, so I imagine it may not have the most advanced technology. Is an aircraft like this able to land at a small airport in Siberia with virtually no visibility, and does the airport even have the technology to accommodate that?

I can’t help but wonder if maybe visibility just wasn’t good, and there were no suitable diversion points, so ditching on a frozen river was the best course of action? Of course this is just a random theory, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind…

Russian airlines seem to be making good use of non-runways lately. While different, it reminds me of how a few months ago, a Ural Airlines Airbus A320 landed in a field in Siberia.

Bottom line

A Polar Airlines Antonov-24 produced in 1971 landed on a frozen river in Siberia on Thursday. The aircraft was on approach to a small airport with limited visibility, and the plane ended up landing on a river parallel to the intended runway.

For modern aircraft capable of doing instrument approaches, this mistake would be unimaginable. However, given the age of this aircraft, plus the small airport being served, I have to imagine that may relate to this outcome?