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Iranian airliner crashes in fog

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

KHORRAMABAD, Iran -- An Iranian airliner crashed in dense fog in western Iran Tuesday, turning the cloudy sky red with flame and sending burning debris tumbling down a mountain slope. All 118 on board were believed dead.

The Iran Air Tours Tupolev Tu-154 crashed at 7:55 a.m. outside the city of Khorramabad, 230 miles southwest of Tehran, the government said.

State-run Iranian television said the Russian-made airliner lost contact with the control tower at Khorramabad airport minutes before hitting the Sefid Kouh mountains, 15 miles west of the city.

"I heard a huge, really horrifying sound of an explosion," said Ardeshir Ghiyasvand of Key-Mirzavand, the closest village to the crash site. "Moments later, I saw that the clouds and fog over the mountains suddenly became red. Everything turned from white to red."

Seconds, later, balls of flame dropped down the slopes of the mountain, he said.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that 105 passengers and 13 crew members were aboard the plane. The victims included two Spaniards and at least 10 government officials, said Behrouz Ghoudarzy, deputy governor-general of Lorestan province.

Ghiyasvand said it had been raining and snowing over the mountains at the time, and visibility had been minimal because of dense fog.

Scattered remains

Searchers who found the crash site said there were no survivors.

"I saw dozens of bodies scattered deep in the valley," said Hamid Fouladvand. "I also saw pieces of the plane. Wolves and bears were in the area and if the bodies aren't collected soon, they will be eaten."

Relatives of passengers gathered at Tehran 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 news of her husband, Houshang.

She blamed the poor condition of Iran's air fleet and "the stupid incompetent officials who go and collect secondhand ... planes from all over the former Soviet countries. What is this garbage they buy or rent?"

In Moscow, Tupolev chief designer Aleksandr Shingart told Ekho Moskvy radio that the plane "had a proper routine servicing in January. It was immaculate and was thoroughly checked ... by Russian experts from the Vnukovo repair works near Moscow."

He suggested pilot error might be to blame.

International investigation

President Mohammad Khatami named an emergency committee to investigate the crash, Iranian television reported.

Aviation experts from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the confederation of former Soviet republics, were also sent to Iran to investigate the crash, Russia's Itar-Tass news agency said.

Several Iranian legislators, meanwhile, called for the resignation or impeachment of Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

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

In May, a Yak-40 operated by the private Faraz Qeshm Airlines crashed in northeastern Iran, 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 them as part of its economic sanctions against Iran.

Iran has said the U.S. stance on spare parts endangers the lives of innocent passengers. In recent years, it has purchased a few Airbus planes.

On July 3, a Tu-154 crash in Siberia killed all 145 people aboard.

With some 1,000 planes built since it entered service in the early 1970s, the Tu-154 is the most widely used jetliner in Russia and is used in many other countries.


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