39 killed after Iran passenger jet crashes

Revolutionary Guards stand watch over part of the wreckage of the passenger jet that crashed in Tehran. Picture: AP
Revolutionary Guards stand watch over part of the wreckage of the passenger jet that crashed in Tehran. Picture: AP
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At LEAST 39 people were killed yesterday when an Iran-140 Sepahan Air passenger plane crashed after take-off from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on a flight to Tabas in northeast Iran.

Initial reports on state media said that all of the 48 passengers and crew had been killed, but they later reported that some passengers had been injured and transferred to hospital.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that eight or nine people had survived and quoted a doctor as saying that one of the injured had regained consciousness. President Hassan Rouhani ordered a halt to all flights of the Iran-140 pending full investigation.

IRNA reported that an engine shutdown caused the crash. The pilot detected technical issues four minutes after take-off and tried to return to the airport, but the twin-engine turboprop crashed on a road at 9:18am local time.

The Civil Aviation Authority said the passengers included two infants and three children under the age of 12, IRNA reported. Mashallah Shakibi, 63, a former member of parliament from Tabas was among the fatalities.

One survivor said he was saved by jumping through a hole in the plane’s body created by a blast. “The force of the blast threw us out of the plane,” Mohammad Abedzadeh, said. “Seconds later, I saw the entire plane in flames,” he said through tears.

The plane’s black box was found and authorities are investigating the cause of the crash.

Iran’s airlines have been plagued by crashes, which Iranian politicians blame on international sanctions that block the airlines from replacing their aging fleets.

About 14 crashes involving Iranian planes were reported in the decade to January 2011.

For years, planes have been kept in service through parts imported on the black market, cannibalised from other planes or reproduced locally, aviation sources say.

Iran’s four largest carriers – Iran Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air and Iran Air Tours – all have average fleet ages above 22 years and serve a market of 76 million people.

US companies Boeing Co and General Electric Co have said they are seeking to export parts to Iran under the agreement for sanctions relief. The chief of Iran Air said the airline will need at least 100 passenger jets once sanctions against the country are lifted. The type of plane that crashed is a locally assembled version of the Antonov-140. Its safety record has come into question in the past.

In December 2002, an Iran-140 test flight crashed, killing at least 46 people, including engineers who had helped design it.

More than a dozen large airlines and several fledgling carriers operate in Iran. The state carrier, Iran Air, has a fleet of about 40 planes including nine Boeing 747 jets, some of which were built before the Revolution in 1979. The safety record for the carriers has led to most Iranian flights being prevented from landing in the EU.

Mehrabad is located in a western suburb of Tehran and mainly functions as a domestic airport, although it also serves some international routes.