Iranian plane crashes in Emirates

An Iranian plane crashed on Tuesday near an upscale neighbourhood as the Kish Air Fokker 50 prepared to land at Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates, killing 43 people aboard, Emirates officials said. Three survivors were being treated at a local hospital.

A crane picked through the charred wreckage, lifting chunks of the broken aircraft. Only the tail and cockpit area of the plane were recognisable, with the rest too badly charred.
Earlier, rescue helicopters landed near the flaming, smoking wreckage while workers in white robes searched for survivors.

About 30 charred bodies were laid out in rows and covered with red blankets near the wreckage, on a road near an upper-class residential neighbourhood. The bodies were intact, but burned beyond recognition; one was of an infant, a girl.

The Kish Air Fokker 50 crashed at 11.40am local time in an open area about 3km from the airport, said Ghanem al-Hajiry, director general of Civil Aviation and the Sharjah Airport Authority. The plane crashed in an open area, about 200m from the nearest homes.

The cause of the crash was not yet known, al-Hajiry said.

However, an internet search based on the plane’s tail number indicated the Fokker 50 was 11 years old—far newer than most passenger planes in Iran’s ageing fleet—and was delivered to Kish Air in 2002.

Mohammed al-Ghaith, another senior Civil Aviation official, said that the pilots had not sent out an emergency call, which could indicate a malfunction or trouble on board. He said that two black boxes and a cockpit voice recorder had been found, and that an Iranian delegation was en route to take part in the investigation.

Colonel Saleh Ali al-Mutawaa, general director of Sharjah police, said 43 of the 46 people aboard the plane had died: 12 Indians, 19 Iranians, four Egyptians, two Filipinos, two Algerians, one Syrian, one Chinese, one Nigerian and a Bangladeshi.

Three crash victims were receiving treatment at al-Qasimi hospital in Sharjah, an emergency-room attendant at the hospital confirmed.

Two of them were in critical condition, he said. The attendant did not provide a condition on the third, who was reported as stable by the Emirates official news agency, WAM. Al-Mutawaa said two of the victims at al-Qasimi hospital were Filipinos, and the third was an Iranian.

No other information about the survivors was immediately available. WAM reported that two other people believed to have been taken alive from the scene had died on arrival or later at local hospitals.

Traffic was backed up for kilometres after police fenced off the road between the emirates of Sharjah and Ajman.

Civil aviation and television backed off initial reports the plane had crashed on takeoff and said it was returning to Sharjah from the Iranian island of Kish in the Gulf when it went down.

Flights to nearby destinations such as Kish are mainly used by foreigners—particularly Asian workers, including Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos, who make up the bulk of the Emirates work force—to exit and return in order to remain within Emirati visa requirements.

Foreigners whose visas are expiring need to exit and re-enter on a new visa, which takes two or three days to process.

Kish is a favourite destination for visa changes because tickets are cheap and visas aren’t needed to enter the island. Cheap hotels cater to visa-changers, many of them labourers or maids in the Emirates.

Kish, one of the three free trade zones in Iran, is the Islamic Republic’s endeavour to lure tourism and foreign exchange. The island operates as a kind of bridge between the conservative morality of mainland Iran and the bikini-and-booze freedoms in parts of the United Arab Emirates, 100km away.

Unlike the mainland, there are no rules to limit the mingling of unrelated men and women. They even get together in wet suits for scuba-diving classes—an impossible scene elsewhere under dress codes that try to keep women’s curves under cover. On the streets, women go without the long coat worn across Iran. The favoured outfit would risk arrest on the mainland: pants, blouse and a hat or loose headscarf.

In Tehran, Kish Airline officials refused to comment, even to confirm the crash.

Families of passengers who were expected to arrive on the flight began arriving at the airport.

Abdel Rasoul al-Majidy said his 65-year-old father in law was supposed to be arriving on the flight.

“We don’t know what’s going on. All we know is that my father-in-law was arriving today and then we heard of this plane crash,” he said.

His wife, Fawziyah, began screaming hysterically at airport officials: “Where’s my father, where’s my father?” she shouted, calling on officials to “bring him to me”.

Kish Air has a fleet of four medium range TU-154M jets, a Russian aircraft, on domestic and international flights and four short-range Fokker 50s, German-made turboprops, according to the company’s website.

Iran has a history of air accidents, often blamed on badly maintained planes. In June, an Iranian military C-130 transport plane crashed outside Tehran, killing all seven people on board. In February, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 crashed in southeastern Iran, killing all 275 aboard.

Last month, a top Iranian aviation official asked the United States to lift sanctions on its airline industry as a humanitarian gesture so the country can buy spare parts for its airplanes.

The backbone of Iran’s aviation industry was US-made aircraft prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the American-backed shah. Washington banned US exports to Iran after Islamic militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran shortly after the revolution and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Tehran has blamed many of its air crashes on US sanctions, saying they have prevented the country from repairing and replacing an ageing fleet. The sanctions also keep Iran from buying most European-made airliners like the Airbus, because they contain American technology.

In Belarus in September, a Tupolev-154 belonging to Kish Air on a Tehran-Minsk-Copenhagen went off course while making its landing approach at the Minsk-2 airport, striking trees which caused serious damage to the plane’s wings. None of the 40 people aboard were hurt.

In 1995, an Iranian flight attendant hijacked a Kish Air Boeing 707 to Israel during a flight from Tehran. The plane was returned to Tehran with 174 passengers and crew.—Sapa-AP

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