All 168 on board killed in Iran plane crash

A Tupolev passenger aircraft crashed in north-western Iran on Wednesday on its way to neighbouring Armenia, and all 168 people on board were killed, Iranian media reported.

“On board the plane there were 151 adults, two children and 15 crew members,” Caspian Airline’s representative in Yerevan, Arlen Davudyan, told Reuters at Yerevan Airport.

“Fifteen or 16 minutes after take-off the plane fell near the Iranian city of Qazvin, about 150km north of Tehran,” he said, adding it was a Tu-154 aircraft and that the cause of the crash was not clear. The black box had not yet been found.

The Caspian Airlines plane was carrying 153 passengers and 15 crew, Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesperson for Iran’s aviation organisation, told state television. The plane was travelling from Tehran to Yerevan in Armenia.

Crying relatives gathered at Yerevan airport, and on one wall a notice listed people who were on board.

A senior Iranian provincial official, Sirous Saberi, said the aircraft had experienced technical problems and had tried to do an emergency landing.
“Unfortunately the plane caught fire in the air and it crashed,” he told semi-official Fars News Agency.

Television showed footage of debris from the plane and some body parts. Eight members of Iran’s national junior judo team and two coaches were among the dead, the semi-official Mehr News Agency said.

It was the third deadly crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 in Iran since 2002, and the deadliest crash in the Islamic Republic since 2003 when an Ilyushin Il-76, also Russian built, crashed into a mountain.

“It’s been a major disaster, with pieces of aircraft spread over an area of 200 square metres,” a fire brigade official told state television.

“There was an explosion that left an indentation 10m deep in the ground. There was nothing we could do. We tried to put out the fire as best we could,” he said.

Television pictures also showed a large crater gouged into farmland with mangled pieces of metal scattered around. Smoke rose from the site as police and bystanders gathered around.

Totally destroyed
“The Tupolev plane has been totally destroyed and the corpses, unfortunately, have been totally burnt and destroyed. All on board are dead,” Qazvin police Commander Massoud Jafarinasab told Fars.

The official IRNA news agency said it crashed at 11.33am local time, but Jafarzadeh later told state television this was the time it departed from the capital’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

United States plane maker Boeing has not exported a plane to Iran since 1979, when the US government imposed sanctions against Tehran.

Those sanctions have also hampered Iranian efforts to buy spares for US planes bought earlier, or to buy European planes powered by US-built engines such as Airbus airliners.

In September 2006, 29 people were killed when an Iran Air Tour Tupolev 154 passenger plane caught fire on landing in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. In 2002, all 118 people aboard were killed when an Iran Air Tours Tupolev 154 crashed near the western city of Khorramabad.

Caspian Airline’s Davudyan said about 20 to 25 passengers were Armenian citizens. Iran is home to about 100 000 ethnic Armenians, many of whom frequently use the flights between Tehran and Yerevan to visit relatives in Armenia.—Reuters

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