Victoria Zilbershtein (Age: 22; Occupation: Flight Attendant, Siberia Airlines)
She had joined Siberia Airlines two years ago and was based in Moscow. She first thought that she would work as a flight attendant for only a year or two, enough to earn money to get a degree in law. After the first month of flying she absolutely loved her job and knew that she would be doing this for alot longer than she had originally wanted to.
On July 11th she was released from the emergency room of the Irkutsk Central hospital and airlifted to Moscow-Zhukovksy and was then taken to Moscow's Sklifosovsky institute for further treatment. There we talked to her.
Her room is full of flowers from grateful relatives of survivors of the flight that she had a hand in rescuing. Her cell phone is constantly ringing from friends and family and others wanting to know how she is doing. When we asked her what happened on that day, this is what she described.
"Everything went normally. Nothing unusual. The aircraft was coming in for landing and then, after we landed we were rolling, rolling rolling (down the runway) but there was no reverse thrust. We were not stopping. The aircraft was just rolling down the runway. Then I felt as if we started to take off again. I felt as if the nose dropped and then we hit something hard. Alot of the seat belts and seats did not handle this crash and lot of people went flying forward, and bags were flying at me. The lights failed and the cabin went dark, a gray smoke almost instantly started filling the cabin. A wall of fire was coming at us from the rear of the cabin. (mistake? - author) A crowd of people ran up and shouted at me: "Open the door! Open the door!" I was buried under some bags and when I freed myself it was clear that I would not be able to open the door as there were people between myself and it not to mention the smoke that made me move to the door by picturing it from my memory. I could not see a thing. I pushed the people aside and as I did this I prayed that the door was not jammed and would open...and it opened. It looked like about three meters to the ground from the wing exit. I knew that they would be hurt but they would survive. I helped everybody out and I felt as if I was loosing consciousness. I went into the cabin and dragged two men a woman and two children out of the cabin. In my last trip to the exit it I collapsed and then when I stood back up, the heat was unbearable from the already raging fire. Two young men, one of them named Ivan jumped down onto the ground in front of me and said that they would catch me, I jumped and the next thing I remember is that two young men are carrying me away from the plane towards some garages. I then saw the mid-section plane explode. I remember that while they carried my, I kept loosing my sight but I was looking from side to side for my passengers and thinking how they were. After they put my down, I remember calling my mother on my cell phone and saying "Mom! The plane is burning. I am alive." There I saw one of my colleagues with a bandaged up leg. Then I lost consciousness."
While in hospital in, she was visited by the head rabbi of the Russian Federation, Berl Lazar, who told her that he would personally nominate her for the Jewish national award "Person of the Year 5766" (Jewish calendar - author) and that all Jews in Russia are proud of her actions to save the lives of others. Her bedside looked something like a street during rush hour, people coming in and out bringing her flowers and other gifts and just saying thanks. For her actions she will also be given a new apartment by the Federal Government and she has received a medal "For Outstanding Service" from the mayor of Irkutsk, who personally visited her in hospital.
She will be released on July 28th. Her injuries included a serious concussion, multiple fractures and bruises and poisoning from toxic smoke.
Victoria plans to return to work as a flight attendant after she makes a full recovery and goes through a course of rehabilitation.
According to estimates, about 24 people exited through the exit that she opened and she directly saved about 8 people. The only other exit to be opened was one in the tail of the aircraft but the people there were not as lucky, the tail was 4 meters above the ground and most people that left the aircraft through that exit have more serious injuries. None of the escape slides inflated.
Victoria Zilbershtein in the hospital before she was released home
Victoria (right) with colleague Elena Tyurina
Photo © Sam Chui
[Edited 2006-07-27 22:43:27]