Tupolev 124 Ditching in Neva River

The Tupolev 124 ditching in Neva River was a notable case of water landing that occurred in the Soviet Union in 1963.

It remains one of 9 documented intentional water ditchings of commercial passenger planes. A Tupolev Tu-124 of Soviet state airline Aeroflot (Moscow division) took off from Tallinn-Ülemiste Airport (TLL) at 08:55 on August 21, 1963 with 45 passengers and 7 crew on board. The aircraft (registration number СCСР-45021) was built in 1962 and was scheduled to fly to Moscow-Vnukovo (VKO) under command of 27 year-old captain Victor Mostovoy. After liftoff it appeared the nose gear undercarriage didn't retract. Ground control diverted the flight to Leningrad (LED) – because of fog at Tallinn – at low altitude.

At 10:00 the aircraft started to circle the city at 1,650 feet (500 m), in order to expend fuel, decreasing the risk of fire in the event of a forced landing. The ground services at Pulkovo Airport (LED) were preparing the dirt runway for the forced landing. Each loop in the airspace around the city took the aircraft approximately 15 minutes. During this time the crew attempted to force the nose gear to lock into the fully extended position by pushing it with a pole taken from the cloak closet.

A truly miraculous landing on a river in the centre of a big city saved dozens of lives, and the pilot was hailed a hero. It happened 45 years ago in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

On August 21 a strange picture shocked the people of USSR’s second biggest city: a passenger liner being tugged by a small boat along the river Neva. Passersby first thought some movie-studio was filming a scene, but then noticed the broken hull of the plane.

The Russian-made Tupolev-124 aircraft, then a new model, was flying from the Estonian capital of Tallinn to Moscow via Leningrad. After takeoff a bolt fell off the plane’s chassis (it was later found on the runway). During the flight assistant pilots tried to hammer the trigged chassis and even cut the bottom of the plane from the inside to do so, but it didn’t help. The plane was destined to find a harsh landing on a field outside the Leningrad airport.