Kyrgyz passenger plane crashes, about 70 dead

About 70 people died on Sunday when a Kyrgyz airliner crashed outside Bishkek, capital of the tiny former Soviet Central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan, among them members of a local teenage basketball team.

The Boeing 737-200, chartered by an Iranian company and bound for Tehran, crashed soon after take-off, a spokesperson for Manas airport, 30km from Bishkek, said.

”It took off and reported a technical problem and tried to return to the airport,” the spokesperson said.

Emergencies Minister Kamchibek Tashiyev said 90 people were on board and 25 of them survived. But Prime Minister Igor Chudinov told reporters after an emergency meeting in Manas that the number of survivors was less.

”According to preliminary information, 20 out of 90 people on board survived,” Chudinov said.

Officials said they would release a full list of dead and survivors early on Monday.

A health ministry spokesperson said 18 people were taken to Bishkek hospitals. She did not say whether there were any more survivors.

”The pilot has also survived but it is difficult to talk to him right now,” Chudinov said.

He did say whether the pilot was injured and in hospital or in a state of shock at the airport.

Officials said 83 passengers and seven crew were on board the Boeing 737-200. Chudinov said 51 of the passengers were nationals of China, Turkey, Iran and Canada, but gave no further details.

A government official told reporters that 17 teenagers, a basketball team from a local sports school, were on board. He said seven of them survived and were in hospital.

The crash site, close to the Manas airport runway, was sealed off by police but airport employees who had seen the wreckage said all the fuselage was destroyed by flames with only the tail still intact.

Transport Minister Nurlan Sulaimanov said the plane, built in 1979, was in good shape and had been inspected only two months ago.

Chudinov said that according to initial reports, the plane suffered from a sudden loss of pressure, causing the pilot to request an emergency landing. – Reuters

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