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When Soviet Aeroflot Pilot Tried To Land Blind To Win A Bet And Killed 70 People

Spotlight on Crash Caused by Pilot Negligence

By Eduard Marmet [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL 1.2 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There are a few cases in which pilot error is the sole reason for a fatal plane crash. One such example is Russian Aeroflot Flight 6502 which ended in a fiery crash landing, killing 70 people in Soviet Russia. At the time, the KGB strictly controlled media images and photos of the crash were withheld from public view.

Fire Department Chief Colonel AK Karpov met with KGB officers who arrived on the scene within minutes of the crash. Karpov then smuggled these photos out of the area and the pictures resurfaced in the public realm many years later.

On October 20, 1986, 87 passengers and 7 crew members took off from Yekaterinburg headed to Grozny via Samara (which was called Kuybyshev at the time). When coming in for a landing, Captain Alexander Kliuyev made a deadly bet with the First Officer, insisting that he planned to land the Tu-134-A aircraft with no visual contact with the ground. Two minutes before landing at 3:48 p.m. at an altitude of 1,300 feet, Kliuyev ordered the flight engineer to pull the curtains over the cockpit windscreen, boasting that he would have no problem landing the plane using instruments only.

A dumb and deadly decision to continue the approach

Alarms were going off but the pilot ignored them. The air traffic controller suggested he utilize and use an NDB approach. An NDB approach is a non-precision approach that lacks vertical guidance. A proximity warning was issued at an altitude of around 200 feet and the ATC suggested that he go around. But Kliuyev disagreed and continued his fateful approach. The plane was grossly unstable and touched down way too fast. The aircraft flipped upside down after over running the runway and burst into flames.

Because of the captain’s overconfidence and petulant refusal to listen to others’ suggestions, 63 people died at the time of the accident and seven more died in the hospital later. Kliuyev was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released after only 6 years. Co-pilot Gennady Zhirnov did his best to save the passengers but wound up dying of a heart attack on the way to the hospital.

Soviet officials discovered at the trial that Klyuyev tried to make the blind landing to test his ability as a pilot and win a bet. He appeared cool and composed during the trial even though the Soviet media blamed the tragic crash on his overblown sense of self-assurance. A report issued at the time found that Klyuyev broke every rule on his blind landing.  The chain of events that led to the crash could have been broken but no one spoke up, leading to the tragic deaths of so many innocent lives.

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Kim Clark

Written by Kim Clark

Former CNN Radio News Network anchor Kim Clark is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She currently freelances for S&P Global and works as a club and event Disc Jockey in Atlanta, Georgia, after having held positions doing news on radio morning shows and holding down the position of Music Director of commercial radio stations owned by Cumulus and Clear Channel.

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