Aeroflot Flight 3739 (1988)
|Date||March 8, 1988|
|Injuries (non-fatal)||20 to 36|
|Fatalities||9 (including hijackers)|
|Aircraft type||Tupolev Tu-154B|
|Flight origin||Irkutsk Airport, Irkutsk|
|Stopover||Kurgan Airport, Kurgan|
|Destination||Pulkovo Airport, Leningrad|
Aeroflot Flight 3739 was a Soviet domestic passenger flight from Irkutsk to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) with a stopover in Kurgan. On March 8, 1988, after the Tupolev Tu-154 operating the flight had left Kurgan for Leningrad, it was hijacked by the Ovechkin family, whose members sought an escape from the Soviet Union. The hijackers demanded the crew fly the aircraft to London. The flight engineer persuaded the hijackers to allow a stopover in Finland for refueling. The aircraft in fact landed at the Soviet military airbase Veshchevo, near the Finnish border, where it was stormed by the incident response team of the Soviet interior ministry. During the incident four hostages died and five hijackers committed suicide. Two surviving prosecutable members of the Ovechkin family were sentenced to eight and six years in prison, respectively. One of the crew was awarded the Order of the Red Banner as a result of the incident.
At the time of the incident the Ovechkin family consisted of 13 members: mother Nina (Ninel) and her eleven children (seven sons and four daughters). One of the daughters, Lyudmila, did not participate in the hijacking as she was married and lived separately, in another city. After giving birth to the 10th of her 11 children, Ninel Ovechkina was awarded the Soviet distinction of "Mother Heroine". Following the death of her husband Dmitry in 1984, she raised her children by herself in Irkutsk. The boys started a local music band called the Seven Simeons. Following the band's tour in Japan the Ovechkins decided to leave the Soviet Union and settle abroad. Because it was almost impossible for ordinary Soviet citizens – and particularly for a music band – to legally emigrate, the Ovechkins decided to hijack an aircraft. They left a note claiming they were going to meet relatives and boarded a Tu-154B airliner belonging to Aeroflot, flying from Irkutsk to Leningrad.
Preparing for hijacking, the Ovechkins acquired arms and made two sawed-off shotguns from them. In case of failure the Ovechkins decided to blow themselves up rather than face arrest. They hid the weapons and explosive devices in a double bass, which could not be scanned by airport security devices due to its size. The Ovechkins had previously checked the security system during a test flight to Leningrad. During the boarding on Aeroflot Flight 3739 the airport personnel offered to place the double bass in the luggage section, but the Ovechkins refused and paid extra for it to be transported in the cabin. The double bass was checked visually and allowed in the cabin.
Before landing in Leningrad, near Vologda, the flight crew received a note from hijackers through a flight attendant reading: "Proceed to England (London). Do not descend. Otherwise we will blow up the plane. You are under our control." (The note was subsequently burned in the cabin). The aircraft captain transmitted a distress signal and reported the emergency to Vologda air traffic control. On the ground Operation Nabat (alarm bell in Russian) was commenced. One of the flight attendants informed the passengers that they were about to land in the Finnish city of Kotka, when in fact the ground services ordered the captain to land at the Soviet military airbase Veshchevo. The flight engineer had earlier persuaded the hijackers that the aircraft needed to refuel in order to reach London.
Shortly before landing the hijackers realized that they were in fact still in Soviet territory. One of the hijackers, Dmitry Ovechkin, killed a flight attendant, Tamara Zharkaya. After the aircraft landed five incident response team members in bulletproof vests stormed the cockpit. From it, according to eyewitnesses, they opened indiscriminate fire towards the cabin. Another group stormed the aircraft from the rear. At that moment one of the Ovechkins shouted via the intercom to the crew: "Commander, tell yours not to shoot". During the aircraft's takeover one of the hijackers, Alexander Ovechkin, detonated his explosive device and died. The explosion had limited effect and only led to a fire in the aircraft's tail, which was extinguished by crew. Ninel Ovechkina ordered one of her sons, Dmitry, to shoot her. Four other members of the Ovechkin family also shot themselves (Vasily, 26, Dmitry, 24, Oleg, 21 and Alexander, 19). Six other members of the family, who were on board, survived the aircraft's takeover (Olga, 28, Igor, 17, Tatiana, 14, Mikhail, 13, Ulyana, 10 and Sergei, 9).
Fatalities among hostages included one flight attendant and three passengers (two women aged 69 and 70 and one man aged 24), who were accidentally killed during the aircraft's takeover. About 20 passengers were injured (36 according to another estimate); 14 of them were injured severely.
The two oldest surviving Ovechkins, Igor and Olga, were tried on September 6, 1988 and sentenced to eight and six years in prison, respectively. While in prison Olga gave birth to her daughter Larisa. Subsequently Olga was beaten to death by her boyfriend on June 8, 2003.
In the aftermath of the hijacking the norms of airport security were revised and the safety of hostages was prioritised. The revised practices prevented deaths, particularly during the 1988 Ordzhonikidze bus hijacking and the 1990 Soviet aircraft hijackings.
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