Passengers on an Air France flight traveling from Paris to Shanghai were left stranded in freezing Siberia for three days this week after their plane was forced to make an emergency landing and their replacement plane suffered a technical issue.
The crew of AF116 on the Boeing 777 from Paris to Shanghai decided to divert to the Siberian city of Irkutsk in Russia on Sunday after an acrid smell and light smoke appeared on board, the airline told AFP. The flight was carrying 282 passengers.
What was supposed to be a routine fixer-upper turned into something more. Once engineers realized this wasn’t a simple fix, a second Boeing plane from Paris was called in to pick up the passengers. While waiting for the second plane to arrive, they were accommodated at local hotels. They were driven there by buses with a lights-flashing police escort.
Having spent the night in Irkutsk, the stranded passengers were expecting to complete their journey the next day when their replacement plane arrived. Unfortunately, the second plane could not take off due to technical difficulties, much to the ire of the already boarded travelers. Both planes were Boeing 777s. Without Russian visas, the travelers were consistently accompanied by police and were not allowed to leave hotel premises.
A few Louis Vuitton employees were among the passengers, and they shared their Siberian experiences on social media.
While no one was hurt during the incident, the passengers were not quite ready to meet the Siberian weather, sporting only light clothing. The temperatures in Irkutsk are now about 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) during the daytime and fall even lower at night reaching nearly -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius).
A third Air France plane managed to pick up the passengers Wednesday morning, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported. While the passengers headed once more for the plane on the chilly Siberian morning, many waved goodbye to reporters and police, who escorted them to the airport for the second time. They also expressed wishes to meet again in less harsh weather conditions.
Air France apologized to the affected passengers in a statement, blaming the chaos on an “exceptional situation.”