View Full Version : Russia Turns Back Delta Flight to SFO

6th Apr 2001, 05:22
Russia Turns Back Delta Flight to SFO
Jonathan Curiel Thursday, April 5, 2001

Bill Reilly should have been in Japan this morning. Instead, he and 200 other passengers were still at San Francisco International Airport, where they disembarked last night after Russian air traffic controllers turned back their Tokyo-bound flight.

A Russian official said the incident was a misunderstanding involving paperwork. Delta Airlines said it is investigating the incident, which forced the flight to return to the United States in midair, more than nine hours after it took off from Atlanta.

"We are looking into the matter," Delta spokeswoman Cindi Kurczewski said today.

This much is known: Delta Flight 55, with 203 passengers and 15 crew members on board, left Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport at 10:05 a.m. yesterday and was supposed to arrive at Tokyo's Narita Airport by 1:05 p.m. today (8:05 p.m. PDT last night). Instead, about 9 1/2 hours into the flight, as the plane flew over the southeast region of Russia called Khabarovsk, Russian air traffic controllers notified the pilots that Flight 55 lacked proper clearance.

Without permission to fly over Khabarovsk, the pilots flew the plane to San Francisco, where the passengers and crew spent the night at local hotels before returning to SFO this morning and boarding different flights for Tokyo.

"Basically, I could have driven here a lot faster if I had a car," Reilly said as he disembarked last night.

Robert Usov, a spokesman for the civil aviation sector of the Russian Air Traffic Control Center in Moscow, said Delta had failed to send a request in time for permission to fly through Russian airspace but that the plane had been given special clearance by Moscow. The plane was 20 minutes into Russian airspace when it was turned back.

"The flight wasn't in our plan," Usov said. "However, we decided to let the plane (fly) through our airspace and gave corresponding orders to the Khabarovsk regional air traffic control center. I don't know what the problem was but, I repeat, we let the Delta flight in. Maybe there was some misunderstanding."

Delta flights from the United States to Japan had never been turned back by Russian authorities.

"Flight 55 routinely crosses through Russian airspace, for which Delta files for and receives approval from Russian authorities," Kurczewski said.

Kurczewski declined to say whether Reilly and the other passengers were given airline coupons or vouchers to compensate them for the inconvenience of the one-day delay.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
2001 San Francisco Chronicle Page A - 13