When 280 passengers boarded Air France flight AF116 in Paris, they knew they had a long ride ahead of them. Shanghai, their ultimate destination, was 11 hours away. What they experienced, though, was an entirely different sort of travel nightmare.
An emergency landing and a broken replacement plane meant their getaway to China’s biggest city ended up being a three-day forced stay in Irkutsk, a remote Siberian town, where travelers saw temperatures plunge to nearly -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) and did not have access to their luggage or passports.
The troubles started a while after takeoff. Air France told the wire service Agence France-Presse the crew decided to divert to Russia “after an acrid smell and light smoke appeared on board,” Time reports. Upon landing safely, airport engineers determined the plane couldn’t be fixed in a timely manner.
A second flight was sent from Paris to get the passengers to their destination. It broke too, once it got to Irkutsk. Two days later, another plane arrived and finally got them on their way.
While there’s not a lot to see in Irkutsk, aside from maybe the Spasskaya Church, the tourist statue, and a regional art museum, stranded passengers didn’t get a chance to explore their temporary home. Because they didn’t have access to their passports, they were accompanied by local police wherever they went.
Air France, which has had a rough year that saw its CEO step down and shares tumble, apologized for the “exceptional situation” and said customers would be contacted to arrange “suitable” compensation.