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'If I can touch this plane, then my life is not lived in vain'

By The Siberian Times reporter
07 August 2016

Journey 'in search of my father', as joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra.

The plane has remained at its landing site ever since, intact apart from a few missing souvenirs taken by passing hunters and very occasional polar tourists over the decades in this remote territory. Picture: Kirill Skurikhin

A daughter is paying a remarkable tribute to her heroic Soviet pilot father who saved 32 lives with a skilled emergency landing in the Arctic, but then perished on a trek in atrocious weather to organise a rescue party for the survivors.

Pensioner Avelina Antsiferova was only six years old when the aircraft  - received from the US under the wartime Lend-Lease Agreement and captained by her father Maxim Tyurikov - was crippled as it landed in perilous conditions in the north of Krasnoyark region two years after the war ended on 23 April 1947.

This week in Krasnoyark, aged 76, she  saw off an expedition to bring the US-made aircraft back from its resting place, to become a major exhibit at a planned new museum Museum of the Exploration of the North. 

Within a few weeks, it is hoped, the aircraft - albeit dismantled - will complete the journey to Krasnoyarsk that it began 69 years ago. 

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra
'I have been waiting for this moment all my life', Avelina Antsiferova said. Pictures: Kirill Skurikhin


There are hopes, too, that it can be rebuilt so that it can fly again.

Back in 1947, all 32 on board survived the rough impact which tore off the landing gear, destroyed the left side engine, and severely damaged the nose of the plane. 

Three days after the plane came down, with the survivors marooned in biting cold, Tyurikov lost hope that his passengers and crew would be found. 

They had no radio connection. There were no signs of a rescue mission and they were lost: they could only guess at their location.

He decided to hike in search of the nearest settlement, aware that it was 100  or more kilometres away, leaving second pilot Sergey Anoshko, 24, to organise makeshift shelter for the survivors who included women and children. 

Avelina's father along with mechanic Viktor Pismarev, 33, radio operator Alexey Smirnov, 34, and six passengers went with him, but they all perished in the appalling cold.

Yet those huddling close to the plane all survived and were eventually rescued despite Tyurikov's fears that they were lost forever. 

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra
Back in 1947, all 32 passengers survived the rough impact which tore off the landing gear, destroyed the left side engine, and severely damaged the nose of the plane. Pictures: Kirill Skurikhin


Seven decades on, Avelina is now waiting for the plane to be brought to Krasnoyarsk so that she can see for herself the aircraft her father managed to bring down despite a catastrophic loss of oil pressure in the left engine, hazardous weather conditions, and finally mechanical problems in the second engine after five hours flying.

'I have been waiting for this moment all my life,' she said. 'I studied the story of my father, and searched the documents in archives. 

'If I can touch this plane, then my life is not lived in vain.' 

This Douglas C-47 DL SkyTrain (serial number 42-32892, # 9118) was produced in Long-Beach, California and passed to the US Air force on 24 February 1943.

It was handed over to the USSR under the wartime Lend-Lease agreement on 12 March 1943 at Fairbanks, Alaska with the registration USSR-N238. 

Its wartime service saw it based in Krasnoyarsk, and it was used for ice reconnaissance in the Kara Sea.

Then it was passed to Polar Civil Aviation. 

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra
The expedition is set to be back around 20 August. Pictures: Kirill Skurikhin


At the time of its loss the plane under Tyurikov's command was on a return flight Kosisty island to  Krasnoyarsk with stopovers in Khatanga, Dudinka, and Turukhansk with - officially - 26 passengers onboard. In fact, there were 32, some without tickets, along with 852 kilograms of luggage. 

The weather was challenging: densely overcast, cloud at 1,000 metres, snow and visibility of 1 km.

Problems started soon after departure from Kosisty island: there was a drop in oil pressure in the left engine, and the temperature was rising. 

The crew could not return to Kostisty because of bad weather and they took the decision to go on to Khatanga and land there. Yet due to bad weather they also passed Khatanga  and continued the flight, aiming for the nearest airport at Volochanka.

After five hours in the air, the Douglas 'fell into a freezing zone' and the crew changed course in search of better weather. 

They tried to identify their location visually, but could not, as by now it was late night. During the long flight, the right engine now overheated.

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra


joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra
This Douglas C-47 DL SkyTrain (serial number 42-32892, # 9118) was produced in Long-Beach, California and passed to the US Air force on 24 February 1943. Pictures: Kirill Skurikhin


Tyurikov took the plane down for a rough tundra landing on snow with a depth of 1.5 metres, with considerable damage to the aircraft but everyone on board safe. 

In fact, they were 180 km short of Volochanka, a village in the Avam district on the Taimyr peninsula.

The plane has remained at its landing site ever since, intact apart from a few missing souvenirs taken by passing hunters and very occasional polar tourists over the decades in this remote territory.

Now the expedition by the Expeditionary Centre of the Russian Geographical Society in Siberia, working with air company AeroGeo, intends to dismantle the aircraft with the assistance of American pilot and Douglas expert Glen Moss.

A skilled team will work day and night to undo the wing consoles, the tail, the engines and centre section. Before leaving they will erect a memorial at the site to the pilot and others who perished seeking an escape from this remote land.

After being dissembled, the plane's parts including a 19 metre long 'cigar' of the fuselage will be delivered by AeroGeo's Mi-8 helicopters to a barge which has already left a port in Norilsk. 

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra

joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra
A joint Russian-American expedition sets out to bring home crashed wartime Douglas C-47 from tundra. Pictures: Kirill Skurikhin


It will return to Norilsk, and from here the dismantled Douglas will be transported by land to Dudinka, a distance of about 100 km.

Here, it will be loaded on another boat to make the final 1,524 km journey on the Yenisei River to Krasnoyarsk, where its reassembly and repair will commence.

Avelina, herself for 34 years an engineer with the Yenisei River Shipping Line, will then get the chance to touch the aircraft, as will her brother Vladislav Tyurikov, a captain at Krasnoyarsk shipyard. Of those who in 1947 set out to walk their way back to civilisation, only the pilot's remains were found in the Arctic waste where he perished. 

He was identified by documents found near his body. The other members of his group were never found. 

Those who remained beside the stricken Douglas had to wait three weeks before they were found. Eventually they were spotted by the crew of a plane piloted by legendary airman Fedor Shatrov, a Hero of the Soviet Union, on 11 May. Two days later a plane with skis landed at the site.

Rescue pilot Vladimir Malkov described the scene of his welcome from the desperate survivors as he landed: 'So many tears of joy. Strangers hugged and kissed their saviors'.

Comments (3)

eventually the hope turned into reality. The plane restored after several decades. Good efforts made.
rajeev kumar, new delhi/India
23/09/2016 16:30
0
0
Great to see Russians and Americans working together again !
Donald, USA
11/08/2016 18:02
5
0
An interesting operation and goal.
Do hope everything will go well and like to see pictures of the plane when it has been restored again in future!
Antoine BERBEN, Nijmegen The Netherlands
09/08/2016 02:48
11
0
1

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