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Plane Bearing Russian Yacht for U.S. Regatta Grounded

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Plans to have a Soviet military plane land here today bearing Russia’s entry in the America’s Cup sailing regatta were grounded Wednesday, along with an ambitious proposal to reload the plane with food and supplies for the return trip--victims of the country’s internal turmoil.

“It’s loaded with a yacht, ready to come, but at this point there are lots of glitches,” said Neil Frame, executive director of Los Angeles-based Operation U.S.A., a relief agency that a month ago had announced plans to reload the plane. “And today (Wednesday), it just all fell apart.”

The Antonov 124, said to be the world’s largest aircraft, capable of hauling 300,000 pounds of cargo, had been scheduled to arrive at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field at 8:30 a.m. today, officials said.

But late Wednesday, the plane remained stranded on a runway in St. Petersburg because of internal problems within the Soviet airline, Aeroflot, Frame said.

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Even if the plane makes it to San Diego, he said, he is unsure that his organization will be able to load up the 40,000 units of Top Ramen noodles, 71,000 pounds of nutrition bars and various medical items it had pledged to provide.

Frame conceded that he never worked out who would pay the $5,000 it would take to load the food and supplies and that he still is looking for a donor. He said he hadn’t expected the plane to land until February--although the challenger’s race is in January--and only heard two days ago about the plans to land today.

But that might be a moot point.

Frame said he had heard that Aeroflot, which is flying the massive plane as part of a charter agreement, failed to acquire landing rights in the United States, thus grounding the project indefinitely.

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Marina Kopel, a Soviet-born executive with Zey Enterprises, a North Hollywood firm sponsoring the Age of Russia yachting team, said the glitch was caused by internal problems within Aeroflot, which, in her words, is a “reflection of the Soviet Union itself.”

Bud McDonald, the manager of the airport, said he was notified Wednesday that the plane would arrive sometime, “but I have no idea when. . . . We were told it might be Friday or Saturday, but who knows?”

McDonald said Aeroflot does have landing rights in San Diego.

“They’ve landed here before,” he said. “They’ve even landed this plane here before, so the problem couldn’t be landing rights. I suppose it has to do with everything else going on in the Soviet Union.

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“We have a bit of an internal problem--like, where are we going to park it? It’s like trying to park the Queen Mary. But we have a nice spot reserved just for it at the north end of the runway.

“I hope they come and get it though. Who knows, if they don’t, maybe it could be a planter.”

Frame said he was “on hold,” waiting to see whether the plane lands, and if he will be able to load it. If it doesn’t arrive soon, he said, he will donate his supplies elsewhere.

“We would love to offer help,” he said, “but what I’ve come to expect in matters like this is to expect the unexpected.”

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The Soviets have yet another problem with their Cup contender, a spokeswoman for the America’s Cup Organizing Committee said Wednesday. A schism within the St. Petersburg yacht club has led to two Cup entries from the Soviet Union. But spokeswoman Jane Eagleson said only one boat per yacht club can enter the Jan. 25 challengers’ race.


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