Air India flight headed to SFO diverted to Russia

The Air India flight 173 was heading from Delhi to San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday when the airline said there was a problem with one of its engines.

The flight carrying 216 passengers and 16 crew members was diverted and ended up having to make an emergency landing at the Magadan airport in Russia.

"They are sending, what's my understanding, a replacement aircraft to the destination," said Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department.

On social media, some Bay Area residents said they have relatives on board and reposted videos which they say show crowded areas with mattresses on the ground where passengers were sent to sleep.

The area is very remote according to Steve Fish, professor of political science at UC Berkeley.

'It's Magadan, which is a very far-flung city, extremely cold city on Russia's East Coast. Not many people live there. It's used mostly for arctic exploration, military purposes and so on," said Professor Fish.

At SFO Tuesday, passengers who lined up at the Air India counters for outbound flights said the situation sounded stressful, given the high political tension between the U.S. and Russia.

"I'm a U.S. citizen so with a U.S. passport so landing in Russia would not be my first choice to land. I would rather land anywhere than Russia or North Korea or something like that, so I'm sure US citizens on that flight must be very concerned," said Suboeh Kulkarni, an Orinda resident.

"There's some problem with engine it would be so stressful to know that you are on that flight and know what can happen. And also landing in Russia," said Shammi Bhatia of Hayward.

Professor Fish says Russia's conflict with the U.S. Has resulted in bans on airspace.

"Russia is not even allowing travel over airspace from Western countries," said Fish, "India is actually one country that still does so. There's dispute over the western powers over whether it should actually be doing that."

Fish says President Vladimir Putin must tread carefully in how the Air India passengers are treated.

"He's concerned with his relations with Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India," said Fish.

Other passengers said they feel that Air India's aging fleet of jets should be the main concern.

"The engine issue is probably more concerning. I know their India fleet is pretty old and they plan to revamp it so I'm looking forward to that in the next couple of years," said Neel Kulkarni of New York.