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Air India sends plane for stranded passengers in Russia, with engineers


By Tanvi Mehta and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Air India sent an aircraft on Wednesday to pick up passengers whose Delhi to San Francisco flight was diverted to Russia’s Far East after their Boeing 777 plane developed engine trouble, India’s aviation minister said.

The 216 passengers and 16 crew on board Tuesday’s flight had been moved to makeshift accommodation, given infrastructure limitations at the remote Magadan airport, the airline said in a statement.

The diversion raised questions over how quickly the $200 million U.S.-built plane, whose engines are made by General Electric, could be repaired amid U.S. and European Union sanctions on exports of aviation items to Russia.

“That plane needs to be repaired, mechanics are going on board,” India’s civil aviation minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, told reporters, referring to the flight going out to pick up the stranded passengers.

“I don’t know how long it will take to repair that aircraft but passengers will be taken to their ultimate destination.”

A source at the Magadan airport told Reuters that Air India engineers would arrive on the reserve plane with spare parts.

A stranded passenger named Gagan 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,” the passenger said.

Air India did not immediately respond to a request for information on the passengers’ nationalities.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel had said on Tuesday it was “likely” there were Americans onboard given the flight’s destination.

Angry passengers took to Twitter to complain about inadequate supply of food at their accommodation, which they said looked like a school.

One user said his mother had been given tea, bread and some rice on Tuesday but there was later no contact as she wanted to save her phone battery as there was only one power outlet.

Air India said as it did not have any staff in Russia and the support being provided to the passengers was “the best possible in this unusual circumstance”.

“The ferry flight would be carrying food and other essentials for our passengers,” the airline said.

“All of us at Air India are … making every effort possible to operate the ferry flight as soon as possible, and to ensure the health, safety, and security of all while they wait.”

(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Gleb Stolyarov, additional reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Elaine Hardcastle)

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