Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 29 October 2020

Revealed: The moment a mysterious Russian cargo plane landed in Umm Al Quwain

Soviet-era aircraft has been abandoned by the Barracuda Beach Resort for two decades

Related: Shrouded in mystery: the Russian cargo plane abandoned in Umm Al Quwain

Archive footage has resurfaced online, showing a mysterious Russian cargo plane landing in Umm Al Quwain about two decades ago.

In the video, posted on YouTube, a hulking Ilyushin IL-76 can be seen emerging from the clouds over the old coast road.

As the four-engine behemoth touches down, it kicks up dust clouds and its screeching engines drown out the wind. People can be heard applauding as the aircraft turns right and halts close to where the plane still stands today.

"When the pilots turned on reverse [thrust] after landing, so much sand rose that the neighbouring highway disappeared from view," said Euvgeney Gruzdev, a Russian skydive instructor, who watched the plane land. "It was like a sand storm."

The Soviet-era airlifter has become something of a UAE landmark and is familiar to anyone driving past the Barracuda Beach Resort along the E11. Umm Al Quwain airfield, where it sits, was a popular skydiving location at the time but is now closed.

The footage was posted to YouTube about eight years ago and was recently shared on a Facebook group dedicated to Dubai's history.

“That video is definitely Umm Al Quwain,” said Steve Shipman, who was a regular skydiver there from 1997 to 2009.

Video Mr Shipman took of the airfield in 1999 shows the distinctive road sign seen at the start of the footage.

"Near the end of the [YouTube] shot, if the camera had panned a little more to the right, that’s where the hangars were.”

It was originally thought the plane landed in 1999 but early 2000 is now a possibility. The runway was converted to tarmac in 2000.

“I looked for the Ilyushin in my footage. It is not there in my videos from 1999 and it is there in 2000, it could have landed late 1999 or early 2000,” said Mr Shipman, who is originally from the UK.

The Ilyushin IL-76, also known by its Nato operating name 'Candid', first flew for the Soviets in the 1970s as a replacement for the equally legendary Antonov 12. It was useful for remote areas of the Soviet Union as it could operate on unpaved runways. The model seen in Umm Al Quwain is a four engine turbofan and was built for the Soviet air force in the 1970s.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it found a new role as a charter and operated in the UAE from the late 1990s. It was last registered to Centrafrican Airlines from 1998 to 2000, an airline nominally headquartered in the Central African Republic with the registration number TL-ACN. Centrafrican was connected to Viktor Bout, an arms dealer. The UAE banned Bout from entering the country in the early 2000s and he is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a US jail.

Many theories circulated over the years about its arrival in the emirate. But it is believed the plane was bought to use as what is known as a gateguard – an advert for the aerodrome – or to be converted into a restaurant. This is partially borne out as signs for a local hotel are etched on the plane’s side. Writing in Merchant of Death, a book about Bout, authors Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun also suggest this fate.

"When one of his decaying Ilyushins … became a candidate for the scrap pile … Bout came up with a novel solution. He sold the plane to a UAE advertising firm, promising to turn it into a roadside billboard along the bleak highway," they wrote.

"The pilot examined the plane and found it could only fly on three engines out of four. The pilot was about to say no when Bout offered him $20,000 . The plane shuddered aloft, engines sputtering but the veteran airman managed to coax the old Ilyushin down to a soft landing in the sand along the highway."

There it has remained ever since. Birds nest in its wings and it is sinking into the sand. In recent years it has been used as a quirky venue for art performances but whatever happened to the restaurant idea has been lost to time.

Updated: September 19, 2020 08:09 PM

Editor's Picks
THE DAILY NEWSLETTER
Sign up to our daily email