Today finishing my translation of the interview with Captain Alexander Akopov, the Hero Pilot.
Akopov got a chance to tell his side of the story on the Ukrainian portal Strana.UA. As I mentioned before, the two interlocutors are Svetlana Kriukova and Anastasia Tovt, who spoke to Akopov over the phone and got quite a good interview. Captain Akopov, a Ukrainian citizen hailing from Donetsk, spends much of his time in Istanbul, Turkey, where he is an employee of the Turkish airline AtlasGlobal.
Strana: What is your opinion of the conflict in the Donbass?
Akopov: I don’t feel I can even comment on that. I feel very much [pain] for what is going on there. Sometimes it makes me feel like I can’t even breathe. The best airport [was there, in Donetsk]. The best football team. Can you grasp what it means, to lose all of that? In a word, War is War.
Strana: Let me explain why I asked you that question. Because of your Lavrov (photo) avatar, many people accused you of being sympathetic towards Russia.
Akopov: People can say whatever they please. Sympathy for Russia? Yes, I feel sympathy for Russia. Sympathy for Russian hockey. But when it comes to football, I root for the Ukraine. I live and work in the Ukraine. You may not accuse me of being a Separatist.
Strana: Do you consider yourself to be a hero?
Akopov: I am a simple, normal person. I was just doing my job.
Strana: Tell us how it was. What goes through the mind of a pilot whose plane has just been pounded by hail? How were you able to land it?
Akopov: I was nervous, of course. People like yourselves, who are not familiar with aviation, of course will have a hard time understanding exactly how this looked. Try to imagine yourself behind the wheel of an automobile faced with an imminent accident. You’re driving along, and you realize that something isn’t right. But improvisation is not a possibility here. There are instructions, there are monitoring systems which kick in. But at a certain phase you have to make command decisions.
Strana: What decision did you take?
Akopov: There could be no hesitation nor second-guessing. I understood that I had to land the plane. The sooner the better. The situation was extreme and I did everything that I needed to do. I have been learning my pilot trade for a long time, therefore I was able to let my professional instincts kick in.
Strana: Had you ever experienced anything like this before?
Akopov: Yes, but not as serious as this case. Once I had an engine catch fire on a Yak-42. That happened, I think, in the year 2000. We were flying out of Vienna and we successfully landed in Lvov.
Strana: When this was happening on this flight, to Istanbul, how did the passengers react?
Akopov: I didn’t personally have any time to interact with the passengers. But I did hear some screams [coming from the cabin], there was some panic, apparently. But our senior flight attendant conducted herself very well in this situation, she was able to calm everyone down.
Strana: Did the passengers express any gratitude to you?
Akopov: Only in the social media. Because as soon as we landed, they [the passengers] were led away into the waiting room, therefore I wasn’t able to communicate with them. But now — yes, some are writing to me, saying thank you.
Strana: Did you get any calls from any officials?
Akopov: Yes, the Minister of Infrastructure Vladimir Omelyan, called me. And also President Petr Poroshenko himself.
Strana: And what did he say?
Akopov: That was a personal conversation, so I shouldn’t disclose it. And I am personally grateful that this event did not go unnoticed. All I can say is that the photo of Lavrov was not mentioned [by the President]. At that level people don’t — excuse me for saying so — bother themselves with such nonsense.