After the emergency landing of a passenger plane in a cornfield near Moscow, the two pilots have received top honours for courage and heroism.

President Vladimir Putin ordered captain Damir Yusupov and co-pilot Georgy Murzin be given Russia’s highest state award, the Hero of Russia, said the Kremlin on Friday. He granted the Order of Courage, another top state award, to five crew members.

The plane took from Moscow’s Zhukovsky International Airport with 233 people on board, bound for Simferopol in Crimea.

It hit a flock of gulls shortly after take-off, disrupting its engines, and requiring an emergency landing in a field.

More than 70 passengers were treated for injuries.

Russia’s natural resources watchdog said on Thursday it had identified an illegal rubbish dump roughly two kilometres from Zhukovsky airport, which is southeast of Moscow, as being the possible home of the birds which caused the emergency landing.

“I did what I had to do,” said Yusupov who guided the Airbus down. “I saved the plane, the passengers, the crew. I think that was the only decision. I don’t think I’m a hero.”

“I wasn’t scared,” he told reporters in Yekaterinburg where Ural Airlines has its training centre. “I saw the cornfield in front of me… I tried to minimise our vertical speed to ensure a soft landing.”

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