A Bet Between Pilots That Resulted In The Death Of 70 People

Photo by Eduard Marmet

In a Nutshell

Just over 30 years ago – October 20, 1986 – 85 passengers boarded a flight headed for Grozny, from the picturesque region of Sverdlovsk Oblast. On the Tu-134A aircraft, on the Aeroflot Flight 6502 route, were a seven-man team, which included pilot Alexander Kliuyev. Unfortunately, he and the co-pilot felt it would be a fun idea to try and land blindfolded, which consequently killed 70 passengers.

The Whole Bushel

It was a routine afternoon in October 1986, but that element of repetitiveness turned out to be a negative, rather than a positive factor. All of the passengers booked on to Aeroflot Flight 6502 were no doubt excited for their trip to Grozny, and they would have never expected the events that unraveled. After going through the safety checks, and subsequently taking off, all was well and good while they were in the sky.

However, during the journey, there was a standard stopover at Kurumoch Airport. Usually, this would be no cause for concern, but on that particular instance, it was a devastating occurrence. At around 3:45 pm, co-pilot Gennady Zhirnov, proposed an extraordinary bet; he suggested that chief pilot, Alexander Kliuyev, should try and make an instrument-only landing while blindfolded.

Just 5 minutes later, when it was time to descend, the flight engineers operated the blind mechanism to cover the windshield. So, the pilots now had no visual of the runway whatsoever and refrained from utilizing radio-controlled assistance either. The passengers had no knowledge of what was happening within the cockpit, and little did they know that a bet was going to cause their demise.

Moreover, when the aircraft was at around 215 feet from the ground, it signaled a proximity warning. Typically, in an environment where safety is of paramount importance, you’d expect someone to be alarmed by such a warning. But, Kliuyev dismissed it and carried on with his bizarre, blindfolded descent.

Sadly, the pilots weren’t able to successfully land the plane, and it connected with the runway at approximately 170mph. As expected, all of the landing gear was obliterated upon impact, and the aircraft was then rebounded back up into the air. After the right wing was ripped off, and the left wing was crushed in half, the plane spiraled and came to a halt upside down. When it then erupted into flames, 63 people instantly died, which consisted of 4 crew members.

The remaining members of the plane were rushed to the hospital, but 7 more deceased despite the best efforts of doctors. As for the pilots – co-pilot Zhirnov died of cardiac arrest in an ambulance, and chief pilot Kliuyev miraculously survived. He later claimed that he was ‘testing his flying abilities’, but was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but was released after 6 years.

Ultimately, both pilots played with innocent people’s lives, and their outlandish bet was only ever going to result in one outcome – disaster.

Show Me The Proof

Airline pilot bets he can land while blindfolded – crashes plane killing 70 passengers (1986)
Aeroflot Flight 6502