It is a testimony to the remarkable presence of mind and skill of the pilots of the Airbus A 321 that crash-landed in a cornfield near the Zhukovsky international airport in the Moscow region that a massive tragedy was averted.

The Ural Airlines plane was forced to make the emergency landing after it stuck a flock of birds immediately after take-off, TASS reported. The flight had 226 passengers, of which 41 were children, and seven crew members. According to the Federal Air Transport agency the engines sucked in some birds and caught fire.

The passengers were evacuated after the pilots carried out the belly-landing, which required precision maneuvring as the engines had shut down. The plane landed in a field some 3-5 km away from the runway. Fifty-five passengers including 17 children were in need of medical help, a source in the regional Center for Disaster Medicine told TASS. Six of them, including a child were taken to hospitals.

But it could have been worse.

The incident is reminiscent of the "miracle on the Hudson" when Captain Chesley Sullenberger glided his powerless A 320 with 150 passengers and five crew to a smooth touchdown on the river after it hit a flock of geese. The difference: this latest incident happened in Russia, and there was no media celebration.

The passengers in the Russian aircraft have praised the pilots and flight attendants for preventing a tragedy. Svetlana Babina, one of the passengers told TASS, “I was sitting in the fifth row. The passengers quickly realized that this would be an emergency landing. The plane touched down smoothly, and as far as I can tell, no one was seriously injured. After the plane had landed, everyone applauded the pilot.”

As soon as the engines died, flight commander Damir Yusupov, 41, and second pilot Gregory Murzin, 23, spotted a strip of land and belly-landed the plain smoothly.

Yusupov, who is married and has three children, has more than 3,000 hours of flying experience. Born in the city of Igarka in the the Krasnoyarsk Region, he is the son of a helicopter pilot.

Murzin, who began a career in the Ural Airlines in 2018, has more than 600 hours of flying experience.

Ural Airlines
In this representational picture, an Airbus A320-214 plane from Russian carrier Ural airlines comes into land at Larnaca Airport, southern Cyprus, Aug. 17, 2018. Matthieu Clavel/AFP/Getty Images

They flight crew shut off the fuel feed in order to prevent a fire and maintained the right speed during the descent -- easier said than done. What makes belly-landings more difficult and different from other landings is that the plane has to be steered into the horizontal position at the right moment.

The skill of the pilots has been praised by Russia’s honorary pilot, retired Lieutenant-General Viktor Sevostyanov. “In this particular situation there was no time to think. The pilots displayed great professional skill. It was a very skillful landing. Such words of praise are quite appropriate. It was a no easy job to keep the plane under control," Sevostyanov told TASS in an interview.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has lauded the pilots of the aircraft for conducting an emergency landing smoothly and said that they would receive state awards for their heroics.

As the plane belly-landed, the fuel started leaking, and about one ton spilled out. There was a real danger of the fuel catching fire, but the crew immediately evacuated the passengers and kept the situation under control. The plane had taken off with 16 tons of fuel and had used only some 500 liters during its short flight.

The airline said in a statement that the plane suffered significant damages in the crash landing and won’t be able to fly in the near future.

An investigation has been launched under Article 263.1 of the Russian Criminal Code (failure to satisfy air transport safety requirements). The Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) too has set up a commission to investigate the accident. The flight data recorders of the A321 are intact and will be handed over to the committee for investigation purposes. Bird flocks are a common problem in the Zhukovsky Airport due to an illegal dump site in the area.