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Refusing to talk about this airplane

The aircraft was badly damaged during the crash landing. FOTO: Private

Refusing to talk about this airplane

Confusing incident gets more muddled.

The Russian airline Shar Ink will not discuss the fate of the Antonov plane that got stuck near the North Pole. 

The Antonov 74 aircraft suffered serious damage, including to its undercarriage, during the hard landing while it was bringing tourist to the Barneo ice base at 89 degrees latitude North.

Mechanics were reportedly sent to the site, but were able to get the aircraft into an airworthy condition.

Not talking

Svalbardposten reported in early June the plane would be retrieved with an icebreaker "sometime in August."

The Russian airline Shar Ink, which operated the flight, is now refusing to to answer what has happened to the nearly 20,000-kilogram aircraft on the ice as it has drifted southward towards the ice edge in the summer heat.

Repeated inquiries by e-mail and phone from Svalbardposten during the past two weeks have proven fruitless.

On several occasions, unidentified employees at the Moscow-based company hung up the phone as soon as the airplane was mentioned.

On Tuesday afternoon, Svalbardposten received a new e-mail address to send questions to. As of Wednesday, when the newspaper went to press, there was no response to that inquiry.
Neither does Margarita Tertitskaja – an official at the Russian company Polar Expedition, which chartered the plane from Longyearbyen to Barneo – know whether the plane has been retrieved, is on the ice or has fallen through and sunk into the Arctic Ocean.

"Unfortunately I have no information about the plane," she wrote in an SMS message to Svalbardposten, emphasizing she is not working for Shar Ink.

Ice drifting southward

Without more information, it's impossible to say how far south the plane may have drifted since April, according to Sebastian Gerland, head of the ocean and sea ice section at the Norwegian Polar Institute.

"I was putting out buoys at Barneo in April, and I'm seeing that they have drifted toward the Fram Strait and are at 85 degrees north now. The is well into the ice," said Gerland, emphasizing that doesn't mean that the plane has drifted the same distance.

If the Russians have not retrieved the plane, it's too early to determine whether it must have fallen into the sea. The ice drifts in a chaotic manner. Even small differences in the initial position may have serious consequences for its continuing journey through the ice.

"There are many uncertainties here," Gerland said. "The plane may be at a completely different place than the buoys. Moreover, we don't see the ice in detail. In some places there are, for example, open channels."

Hitting the ice hard

Further details about the incident are not publicly known.

According to one passenger, visibility was extremely poor during the landing.

"The aircraft hit the ice hard. It came as a shock to us all," said the passenger, who wishes to remain anonymous, in an interview with Svalbardposten earlier this summer.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

Se bildet større

This picture is taken minutes after the fatal landing in Barneo. FOTO: Private

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