A pilot carried out a heart-stopping emergency landing during which he couldn't see – after giant hailstones shattered the windscreen of his severely damaged jet.
Captain Alexander Akopov picked up the Ukrainian Order For Courage in his home country after landing the Airbus A320 at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Thursday.
His skills saved the lives of the 121 passengers and six crew members on board, leaving him and his crew members celebrating as if it was a “second birthday”.
A heavy storm over Turkey saw hailstones the size of eggs rain down, which left a gash in Captain Akopov’s plane and disabled the plane's autopilot.
He said: “I have been flying for 30 years. Well, did you see the plane landing? Was it okay? The passengers are alive. It is normal. This is our professional reliability," he told local media.
“Our locator did not show this weather disaster, this is why it happened. It was hard, but the main thing is that people are alive.”
Hailstones cracked the cockpit window just 10 minutes after take-off on a Turkish airline AtlasGlobal flight to Ercan in northern Cyprus.
He was given permission to attempt to land at Ataturk airport, despite it being closed to other flights because of the bad weather.
Applause broke out among the passengers after the plane stopped safely after roughly landing on the wet runway.
Pilots of nearby planes flashed their lights as a welcome, and some went aboard to meet Captain Akopov.
His heroics were recognised by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who called him to congratulate him before awarding the Order of Courage.
The storm over Istanbul lasted just 20 minutes but managed to cause traffic chaos and flash flooding. Cars and buses were submerged. More than 7,000 emergency workers were deployed to help in the aftermath, which sparked fires across the city.
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