Hundreds of U.S.-bound passengers have been left stranded in Russia after their flight was forced to make an emergency landing in the country’s far east.
Air India dispatched a plane Wednesday to pick up the passengers, who found themselves diverted into the middle of geopolitical tensions over Russian airspace fueled by the war in Ukraine.
The decision to land in the country despite those complications sparked criticism on social media.
Flight AI173 departed from Delhi to San Francisco on Tuesday with 216 passengers and 16 crew onboard when it developed a technical issue with one of its engines, Air India said in a statement.
The flight was diverted to the Siberian port town of Magadan, where it was able to land safely, the airline said. Air India said local authorities at the airport extended “all cooperation and support upon the flight’s arrival.”
The airline said it made “sincere attempts to accommodate passengers in hotels locally with the help of local government authorities. But it said passengers were “eventually moved to a makeshift accommodation.”
“As we do not have any Air India staff based in the remote town of Magadan or in Russia, all ground support being provided to the passengers is the best possible in this unusual circumstance,” Air India said.
On Wednesday, the airline said a replacement ferry flight, AI195, was on its way to Magadan and was expected to arrive at around 6:30 a.m. Thursday local time (3:30 p.m. ET Wednesday).
Sharing video of the replacement flight taking off, the airline said a team was onboard the flight to “provide any support that the passengers and staff at GDX may require.”
“The ferry flight is carrying essentials in addition to sufficient amount of food to cater to all passengers on the onward flight scheduled from GDX to San Francisco,” it said, adding that the aircraft would transport all passengers and crew onward to San Francisco on Thursday.
In a State Department briefing on Tuesday, principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said the department was “aware of a U.S. bound flight that had to make an emergency landing in Russia.”
He said he wasn’t able to confirm how many U.S. citizens were aboard the flight, but said it was “likely” that there were Americans involved as the flight was bound for the U.S.
One stranded passenger told Indian broadcaster NDTV there were many U.S. citizens on the flight who were worried, given the tension between Russia and the United States.
“There are a lot a nervous people here,” said the passenger, according to Reuters, which named them only as Gagan.
Air routes have been disrupted since Russia issued a ban on some foreign carriers using its airspace in retaliation for Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
While U.S., European and Japanese carriers have stopped flying over Russia, Air India and other airlines have continued to do so.
As Air India faced mounting criticism on social media, the airline apologized in a tweet “for all the inconvenience caused” by making the emergency landing in Russia.
Video shared on social media is purported to show passengers sleeping on thin mattresses on the floor with blankets in what appears to be a classroom.
Responding to a tweet sharing the video, the airline said: “We understand the situation,” adding that its replacement plane was on the way. NBC News has not verified the video.
“My relatives are in that flight and they are still struggling to take care of themselves,” one person wrote. NBC News was not immediately able to verify their account.
“We understand how frustrating and concerning this must be for you and your loved ones,” Air India said, responding to the tweet.
“Please know that we take these situations very seriously and will do our utmost to ensure that all passengers are taken care of and able to continue their travels safely,” the airline said.
Air India did not immediately respond to a request for more information from NBC News.
Girvaan Singh Kahma, 16, was traveling on the flight with his uncle and brother. He told the Associated Press they were barred from leaving the hostel where they were staying in Magadan and couldn’t use their credit cards to buy things because of sanctions over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“The first day and a half was really hard for all of us,” he said. “The weather went to 3 to 4 degrees (Celsius, or 37 to 39 Fahrenheit) in the morning, and in the night it was bitter cold,” he said, according to the news agency, adding that it was getting better with food and a place to sleep.
“The Russian soldiers, the Russian police, the authorities, everyone working in the hostel has been treating us extremely well,” he reportedly said.
Chantal Da Silva is a breaking news editor for NBC News Digital based in London.
Reuters and Associated Press contributed.
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