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Jet bound for Iran crashes in Kyrgyzstan; 68 reported dead

Monday, August 25, 2008

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan -- A passenger jet carrying 90 people, including a Kyrgyz high school sports team, crashed shortly after takeoff Sunday near the Kyrgyz capital, killing 68, government officials said.

The Boeing 737 was headed to Iran when it crashed near Bishkek's Manas International Airport, said government spokeswoman Roza Daudova. Twenty-two people, including two crew members, survived the accident.

Earlier, Daudova, had said there were at least 71 dead and 25 survivors, but she later gave lower figures.

An airport official said the crew reported a technical problem about 10 minutes into the flight and that the plane was returning to the airport when it crashed. The official said she was not authorized to give her name.

Officials said the crash followed the sudden decompression of the jet, which came down in a field near a village.

Among the survivors, were seven out the 17 members of the basketball team from a school in the capital, Bishkek, said Health Ministry spokeswoman Yelena Bayalinova. Presidential adviser Tokon Mamytov, however, later said that the athletes were volleyball players, not basketball players.

Eighteen survivors were hospitalized, and four others were sent home with no serious injuries, according to Daudova.

Daudova said the people on board the plane included 24 Kyrgyz citizens, 52 Iranians, three Kazakhs, two Canadians, one citizen of Turkey and one Chinese.

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Moldomusa Kongatiyev said the plane went down 6 miles from the airport.

Maj. Damian Pickart, public affairs officer for the U.S. air base located at the Manas airport, said U.S. ambulances and firefighting equipment were dispatched to the crash site in response to a Kyrgyz request for help.

Several government officials said the plane belonged to Itek Air, a Kyrgyz company, but was operated by Iran Aseman Airlines. But Mamytov, the presidential adviser, said the plane was both owned and operated by Itek Air.

Itek Air has been banned from operating in the airspace of the European Union because of failure to meet safety and aviation standards, according to a list published by the EU July 24.

Kyrgyzstan is a poor, mountainous country west of China. The U.S. air base in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan supports operations in nearby Afghanistan.

Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and the country's largest city, has a population about 1 million and is situated in the northern part of the Central Asian nation.

Manas International Airport is about 16 miles northwest of downtown.


Associated Press Writer Maria Danilova contributed to this report from Moscow.


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