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Pilot Bets He Could Land a Plane Blind, Then Crashes: Aeroflot Flight 6502

Pilot Bets He Could Land a Plane Blind, Then Crashes: Aeroflot Flight 6502


On October 20, 1986, a hazardous cockpit experiment unfolded between the Captain and First Officer, leading to the tragic crash of Aeroflot Flight 6502. This harrowing tale, concealed in secrecy by the KGB for an extended period, eventually emerged, revealing the catastrophic consequences of one man's heedless actions that resulted in the loss of 70 lives. The flight numbered 6502, embarked from Koltsovo International Airport (SVX) in Yekaterinburg, heading to Grozny Airport in the Chechen Republic with a stopover at International Airport Kurumoch (KUF) in Samara.


An Aeroflot Tu-134A, similar to the aircraft involved in the crash | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The seven-year-old Tupolev 134A aircraft bearing serial number 62327 soared over the Ural Mountains when Captain Alexander Kliuyev bet with First Officer Gennady Zhirnov to execute a landing solely relying on instruments. In pursuit of this challenge, the cockpit windows were curtained to prevent Kliuyev from seeing the ground.



The Tupolev Tu-134, a narrowbody jet airliner manufactured in the Soviet Union from 1966 to 1989, was conceived for short and medium-haul routes. Inspired by the French-built Sud Aviation Caravelle, it boasted the capability to operate from unpaved airfields. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's admiration for the Caravelle's minimal cabin noise spurred the development of the Tu-134 for state-owned Aeroflot.


An Aeroflot Tu-134 at Dublin Airport (DUB) in July 1991 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Initially configured for 56 passengers in a single class, the Tu-134A, a stretched version with more potent engines accommodating 72 passengers, was introduced in 1968. With 854 Tu-134s produced between 1966 and 1989, Aeroflot emerged as the primary operator of this twin rear-engine jet.

Amidst air traffic control advisories, Kliuyev persisted with an instrument-only landing, discarding visual cues. As the aircraft descended to just over 200 feet, audible warnings signaled its proximity to the ground. Ignoring alarms and counsel to abort the landing, Kliuyev pressed on, resulting in a catastrophic landing that flipped the plane and ignited a fire.


People investigating the destroyed aircraft | Photo: Facebook

Tragically, 63 passengers and crew perished in the accident, while seven others were later hospitalized. However, all 14 children on board survived. Despite First Officer Zhirnov's attempts to aid the survivors, he succumbed to cardiac arrest en route to the hospital.

In the subsequent trial a year later, Captain Alexander Kliuyev received a 15-year prison sentence, later mitigated to six years. The court attributed the crash to Kliuyev's arrogance, stating that numerous lives were lost due to his actions.


The plane exploding at the crash site | Photo: Facebook

In the aftermath of the disaster, the repercussions extended beyond the courtroom. The Tupolev Tu-134, the aircraft at the center of this tragedy, symbolized an era of Soviet aviation. Conceived during Nikita Khrushchev's leadership and built to operate on short and medium-haul routes, the Tu-134 was a workhorse for Aeroflot, the state-owned airline. Its robust design allowed for operations from unpaved airfields, reflecting the Soviet emphasis on functionality and adaptability.



The crash of Flight 6502 prompted a reevaluation of cockpit protocols and raised questions about the culture within Aeroflot. The bet between Captain Kliuyev and First Officer Zhirnov underscored a lax attitude toward safety that permeated certain airline segments. This incident led to a thorough review of training procedures, safety protocols, and the psychological aspects of flight crews.


More debris at the crash site | Photo: Facebook

While the Tupolev Tu-134 played a significant role in Soviet aviation, the tragic events of October 20, 1986, cast a shadow over its legacy. The subsequent reduction in the prison sentence for Captain Kliuyev fueled public discourse about accountability and justice in the face of such catastrophic events.

Beyond its immediate impact, the Aeroflot Flight 6502 crash contributed to broader discussions about aviation safety. The aviation community scrutinized the importance of crew resource management, the role of cockpit discipline, and the need for stringent oversight to prevent such incidents in the future.


Photo: Daniel Mena | AeroXplorer

In remembrance of the lives lost on that fateful day, the aviation industry reinforced its commitment to continuously improving safety standards. Lessons learned from Flight 6502 continue to resonate, a sad reminder of the profound responsibilities of ensuring the safety and well-being of those who entrust their lives to the skies.




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Adnan Shaheed
Hi! I'm an aspiring engineering student with an interest in aviation. I really took an interest in Aeroxplorer because it lets me do what I love: talk about planes to people.

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STORIES Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-134 Soviet Union Russia Crash Investigation Safety History


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