Air India ferry flight leaves Russia with stranded passengers, headed to San Francisco

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Air India’s replacement aircraft landed in Magadan at 6.14 am local time, as per flight tracking data, and took off for San Francisco around four hours later.

Air India’s replacement aircraft sent to the remote town of Magadan in Russia’s far east, where 216 passengers and 16 crew were stranded since Tuesday, is now en route to San Francisco with all of them onboard.

“Flight AI173D from Magadan, Russia (GDX) is now airborne for San Francisco (SFO), carrying all passengers and crew. The flight departed GDX at 1027 Hours on 08 June 2023 (local time) and is expected to arrive at SFO at 0015 Hours on 08 June 2023 (local time),” Air India said in an early morning statement on Thursday.

The replacement aircraft had departed from Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon to ferry the stranded passengers and crew to their intended destination, San Francisco. The Boeing 777 operating flight AI173 from Delhi to San Francisco had developed a technical issue with one of its engines and was diverted to the remote Russian town.

The replacement aircraft landed in Magadan at 6.14 am local time, as per flight tracking data, and took off for San Francisco around four hours later.

“Air India has mobilised additional on-ground support at SFO to carry out the clearance formalities for all passengers upon arrival. The team at SFO is prepared to provide all necessary assistance to the passengers, including but not limited to medical care, ground transportation, and onward connections in applicable cases,” the Tata group airline said.

On Wednesday morning, the airline had confirmed that all passengers were being housed in a makeshift accommodation in Magadan “after making sincere attempts to accommodate passengers in hotels locally with the help of local government authorities” given the infrastructural limitations around the remote airport.

This came after videos appeared on social media showing the stranded passengers put up in what appeared to be a local school. Videos of stranded passengers seeking the airline’s assistance to take them onward to San Francisco had also surfaced.

“As we do not have any Air India staff based in the remote town of Magadan or in Russia, all ground support being provided to the passengers is the best possible in this unusual circumstance through our round-the-clock liaison with the Consulate General of India in Vladivostok, Ministry of External Affairs (Government of India), local ground handlers, and the Russian authorities,” the airline had said on Wednesday morning.

Sources in the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) said Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia was closely monitoring the situation and MoCA was in constant touch with Air India.

The United States was also closely watching the situation, considering its strained relationship with Russia and the presence of US citizens among the stranded passengers. US State Department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told journalists in Washington that less than 50 US citizens were among the passengers.

Neither Air India nor MoCA has commented on the nationalities of the stranded passengers. There was also no word on when the snag-hit aircraft, which is still in Magadan, is likely to be repaired and brought back to India. The matter could become complicated as the affected plane and engine were manufactured by US-based companies and there are US and European Union sanctions on the export of aviation machinery to Russia.

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