Iranian passenger plane crashes in western Iran

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ An Iranian passenger plane carrying at least 118 people crashed Tuesday in the snowy mountains of western Iran near Khorramabad, officials said.

No details on the number injured or killed were immediately available, nor was there information on the cause of the crash.

Search teams were sent to the site, said Reza Jaafarzadeh, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran. But they were having difficulty reaching the crash scene due to heavy snow in the Sefid Kouh mountains, the organization said in a statement.

An official in Khorramabad, identified by state television only as Manzari, said search teams that had neared the site had found one of the plane's tires.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that 105 passengers and 13 crew members were aboard Flight 956. Earlier, Jaafarzadeh told The Associated Press that at least 117 passenger and crew were on board.

Iranian television reported that the plane crashed into the Sefid Kouh mountains, 15 miles west of Khorramabad.

The Tu-154, a Russian-made Tupolev operated by state-owned Iran Air Tours, left Tehran at 7:30 a.m. headed for Khorramabad, about 230 miles southwest of the capital, state radio reported.

Residents of a village near Khorramabad heard a ``big explosion'' and fire after the Tupolev went down, the radio said.

By midday, dozens of relatives of the passengers had gathered at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, weeping as they sought information on the fate of loved ones.

``Where are you? What happened to you?'' shouted Nasrin Shafiiyan, crying and beating her face and chest, as she waited for information about the fate of her husband Houshang, who was on the plane.

She said that the crash was the fault of ``the stupid incompetent officials who go and collect second-hand ... planes from all over the former Soviet countries. What is this garbage they buy or rent?''

The television reported that President Mohammad Khatami ordered the formation of an emergency committee to investigate the cause of the crash. A team of experts from the Transportation Ministry was heading to Khorramabad, it said.

Minutes before crashing, the plane lost contact with the control tower at Khorramabad airport, the television said.

Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of state carrier Iran Air, in recent years has leased mostly Russian-made Tupolev planes with Russian crew.

A Russian-built aircraft, a Yak-40 operated by the private Faraz Qeshm Airlines crashed in northeastern Iran in May, killing the transport minister and about 30 other passengers including seven lawmakers. They were on their way to Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, to inaugurate that city's airport.

Iran also has an aging fleet of U.S.-made Boeings purchased before the 1979 Islamic revolution. The United States has refused to provide spare parts for Boeing planes as part of its wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iran.

Iran has said the U.S. stance on spare parts endangered the lives of innocent passengers.

In recent years, Iran has purchased a small number of Airbus passenger planes.

On July 3, a Tu-154 slammed into a Siberian meadow, killing all 145 people aboard. That crash was the 20th involving a Tu-154 since it entered service in the early 1970s. With some 1,000 planes built, it is the most widely used jetliner in Russia and is used in many other countries.

In February 1993 a Russian-made Tu-134 on lease to Iran collided with a military plane near Tehran, killing all 132 people on board.