The first days of February were the days when premiere of a new action movie has taken place in Russia. It’s called “Kandahar” (“The Crew” in international distribution) after the Kandahar city in Afghanistan – the factual capital of the Taliban movement. It may seem that it’s one of the regular action movies based on a completely made-up plot. A Russian transport airplane is hijacked in Kandahar by an Afghan fighter aircraft. The crew is imprisoned for more than a year and then they just escape on their own plane which had been resting nearby all the time. Indeed, can it be real? Without any doubt – YES!
The plot is based on the totally real events. 3 August 1995 was the day when a Russian carrier flew a regular commercial flight delivering ammunition to the forces of so called Northern Alliance in the Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Flying on the height of 8 kilometers the aircraft was intercepted by the Mig-21 fighter, steered by a Taliban pilot. The crew was forced to land at the airport of Kandahar. All 7 crew members were captured and accused of meddling in internal policy of Afghanistan. They were imprisoned in a shed near the Governor’s house and were strictly warden day and night. Two pilots and five more crew members were threatened with an execution in accordance with the Islamic rules. But still Talibs neither hurried to kill the “infidels”, nor they began to raise any claims.
The pilot of MiG-21 who intercedpted the carrier
All negotiations of the Russian Government, UN and USA to liberate the crew were futile. After months of talks aggressors allowed the first diplomatic and medical group to visit the prisoners. A rumor about Russian doctors floated very fast and many Talibs used this rare opportunity to get qualified medical assistance. All these photos are taken by a member of one of such groups visiting the Kandahar captives.
After some six month of captivity the prisoners and the negotiators began trying to convince Talibs of the necessity of regular maintenance of the captured carrier abandoned in the airport. The Afghans clearly realized that such a machine costs millions and it has a very high strategic value for them. After some hesitating they allowed rare visits of 2-3 crew members to the aircraft. Time passed and plane’s maintenance became a regular thing for Talibs which causes no suspicions. The next step was to assure them that a complex maintenance involving all crew members is crucially important for the aircraft standing outdoors for almost a year.
Such a gift for prisoners was given on 16 August 1996 – 378 days after forced landing. It was Friday – a day of prayer in Islamic cultures. At noon most of the warden who came together with the crew to the airport left for the prayer. Seven Russians were escorted to the aircraft only by three wardens. Saying “We need to start engines” the crew closed the door and disarmed the guardians taken aback. The runway appeared to be extremely short for such a big carrier to take off, but the commander Vladimir Sharpatov who was a very experienced pilot managed to take the plane off at the very last plates of the runway. He decided not to fly north towards Russia. He understood that this direction will be patrolled by the Afghan fighters. The course was laid west to Iran and then to United Arab Emirates. Sharpatov held the plane at the nap-of-the-earth so that Taliban radars couldn’t discover them.
Six days after the escape a decree on decorating the crew was signed – commander and the second pilot were awarded the title of the Hero of the Russian Federation, the other 5 crew members were decorated with the Order of Courage.
Comander Vladimir Sharpatov during the captivity…
… and the day after escape.