20 Years Since the Daring Airstan Escape

Yesterday marked the 20 year anniversary of one of the greatest escapes you may have never heard of.

In 1995, Afghanistan was in the midst of a civil war. The Taliban had taken control of much of the country, including Kandahar International Airport.


On August 3rd, 1995, a Taliban MiG-21 intercepted an IL-76TD belonging to the Russian firm Airstan that was carrying 30 tons of weapons bound for Afghan president Rabbani. The MiG forced the transport to land at Kandahar and all seven Russian nationals onboard were taken prisoner.

Negotiations mediated by U.S. Senator Hank Brown began between the Russian government and the Taliban, with the Taliban demanding Russia release Afghan nationals they were allegedly holding. Russia denied holding any Afghan citizens and the talks soon broke down. Brown did, however, get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian crew maintain the IL-76.


Over the next year, the Russian crew maintained their aircraft in captivity, while also surreptitiously preparing it for flight and planning an escape.

On August 16, 1996, over a year after their capture, the Russian crew made a break for it. During their regular maintenance time, half of the Taliban guarding the crew left for afternoon prayers. The Russian crew overpowered the remaining guards as the pilot was able to start the APU by battery and then use the APU to start one of the four engines. With one engine started, the pilot was able to start the remaining three.


The IL-76 taxied quickly to the runway and began its takeoff roll. The Taliban moved a fire truck onto the runway in an attempt to block the aircraft from taking off, but the pilot was able to lift off and clear the truck. The Russians made a mad dash out of Taliban airspace and set a course for the UAE, where they landed safely.

The ordeal was eventually made into a Russian movie, a few clips of which you can see below.

The IL-76 that they piloted (RA-76842) is still in use today as a transport for the United Nations.


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