44 die in Iranian plane crash near airport

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The Independent Online

Forty-four people, including two children, were killed when an Iranian plane crashed in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. The flight went into a dive and crashed two miles from Sharjah airport, witnesses said.

Three of the 46 people on board the Kish Air Fokker 50 were pulled alive from the wreckage, but one died later.

Families of the passengers were waiting at Sharjah airport when they were told of the tragedy. Abdel Rasoul al-Majidy said his 65-year-old father-in-law had been on the flight. His wife, Fawziyah, screamed: "Where's my father, where's my father?"

The cause of the crash was not known. Civil aviation officials said no emergency call was made from the cockpit. Two flight recorders were retrieved from the aircraft which had taken off from Kish Island in Iran. By afternoon, 30 charred bodies lined the Sharjah runway, covered in emergency blankets. The Dutch-made aircraft was smashed beyond recognition.

It had crashed in an open space between two highly populated, upmarket residential areas and had narrowly avoided a school. Witnesses speculated that the pilot, who guided the plane to the open space, may have saved many lives.

Iran has a history of aircraft failures. In June 2003, an Iranian military C-130 transport plane crashed outside Tehran, killing all seven people on board. In February, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 crashed in south-eastern Iran, killing all 275 aboard. Recently Iranian aviation officials have made repeated calls for the United States to lift sanctions on its airline industry so it can buy spare parts for its planes. US exports to Iran have been banned since the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Yesterday's crash involved a Fokker 50, a relatively new model built 11 years ago. Most passengers aboard the flight were Iranian and Asian. Temporary workers in the Emirates whose visas have expired can fly cheaply to Kish Island, which is a free-trade zone, and return with a fresh stamp.