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Air India sends relief plane after US-bound jet stops in Russia

Air India sends relief plane after US-bound jet stops in Russia

Air India sent an aircraft on Wednesday to pick up passengers whose Delhi to San Francisco flight was diverted to Russia’s Far East after their Boeing 777 plane developed engine trouble, India’s aviation minister said.

The flight with 216 passengers and 16 crew members was diverted to Magadan on Russia’s eastern coast, over 5,900 kilometres from Moscow on Tuesday night.

With “infrastructural limitations around the remote airport” in Russia, passengers were put up in “makeshift accommodation” in the town, Air India said in a statement on Wednesday.

Air India said as it did not have any staff in Russia, the support being provided to the passengers was “the best possible in this unusual circumstance”.

“The ferry flight would be carrying food and other essentials for our passengers,” the airline said.

Later, in an update, the airline said, “Our ferry flight AI195 from Mumbai to Magadan, Russia is now airborne.” It was expected to arrive at 6:30am on Thursday (7:30pm GMT on Wednesday), that statement said.

“The aircraft operating the ferry flight will take all passengers and crew onward to San Francisco”, it added.

The airline gave no details on if there were US citizens in Magadan, with tensions high between Moscow and Washington, especially over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It also did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for information on the passengers’ nationalities.

A source at the Magadan airport told Reuters that Air India engineers would arrive on the reserve plane with spare parts.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, State Department principal deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said the United States was monitoring the situation closely.

“I am not able to confirm how many US citizens were aboard the flight at this time,” he said.

“It was a flight that was bound for the United States, so it is of course likely that there are American citizens on board.”

Meanwhile, Reuters quoted a stranded passenger named Gagan telling Indian broadcaster NDTV that there were many US citizens on the flight who were worried, given the tension between Russia and the US.

“There are a lot of nervous people here,” the passenger said.

Angry passengers took to Twitter to complain about inadequate supply of food at their accommodation, which they said looked like a school.

One user said his mother had been given tea, bread and some rice on Tuesday but there was later no contact as she wanted to save her phone battery as there was only one power outlet.

The diversion raised questions over how quickly the $200 million US-built plane, whose engines are made by General Electric, could be repaired amid US and European Union sanctions on exports of aviation items to Russia.

“That plane needs to be repaired, mechanics are going on board,” India’s civil aviation minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, told reporters, referring to the flight going out to pick up the stranded passengers.

“I don’t know how long it will take to repair that aircraft but passengers will be taken to their ultimate destination.”

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