Loneliest job in the world? Meet the man who saved 80 lives at abandoned airport

The simple act of maintaining a disused runway made Izhma Airport Manager Sergei Sotnikov an unlikely hero in 2010. Sotnikov gave a tour of the airport, which he runs almost singlehandedly, in Russia’s Komi Republic on Thursday. «Airplanes have not flown from here since the 90s, 94-95. Helicopters [still do]. There used to be around 126 members of staff here but then they started whittling them... Еще down to just one person. I work here alone now,» he said. The airport became the focus of international media when a Tu-154M suffered a complete electrical system failure. Flying blind, the crew took three attempts to make a landing at the airport, which wasn’t marked on the maps at the time and the runway of which was too short for such a large plane. The aircraft overshot the runway by 160 metres (520 feet), however all nine crew and 72 people made it out of the aircraft unscathed. Had it not been for the diligence of Sotnikov, the outcome could have been very different. «I always check the helipad where the helicopters take off and land. I check the taxiway and runway have glance over at them. I’ll chop down a bush here, touch up the markings there, put some flags down so it feels like there is a runway there,» Sotnikov said. The pilots of flight 514 were made Heroes of the Russian Federation. Sotnikov received the Merit to the Fatherland Medal of the Order award in 2012 and also took part in the 2014 Winter Olympics torch relay. However, Sotnikov would like to see the airport returned to its former glory. «It’s a shame because I’ve worked so long in aviation that and when the snow melts and you go outside it makes you sad, you think about the planes that flew, keeping you busy at work and now nobody needs this abandoned airport,» he said.

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