Dozens killed as Iranian plane crashes in Emirates

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The Independent Online

An Iranian airliner crashed today at Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates. Reports said that at least 35 people died and there were believed to be at least a few survivors.

Local television reports showed flaming, smoking wreckage and rescue helicopters landing near the scene. A row of bodies covered in red blankets was visible in the footage, and frantic-looking rescue workers in white robes were seen pushing at the plane's debris, searching for survivors.

The number of people aboard wasn't clear, with mixed reports from officials and local television of 50 or 40 people, including one child. A Civil Aviation official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said 35 people were confirmed dead. Sharjah television said there was initial word of survivors.

Civil aviation and television backed off initial reports the plane crashed on takeoff and said it was returning to Sharjah for the Iranian island of Kish in the Gulf when it went down.

The civil aviation offical said the plane crashed near a populated area in the emirate; Sharjah television reported that the plane had crashed in an uninhabited area.

Mehdi Mehranpour, deputy managing director of Iran's national carrier, Iran Air, confirmed that the plane belonged to Kish Air, a separate Iranian company. Kish Air officials could not immediately be reached.

Speaking to The Associated Press in the Iranian capital of Tehran, Mehranpour said the airliner was a Fokker 50, which can carry about 60 people, and that it had crashed in a populated area near Sharjah airport.

In the television footage, flames were visible from the front of the plane, which appeared not to be intact. The plane's tail section could be seen and no fire were seen in that area on the television footage. Other indiscernible debris could be seen smoking on the ground.

Kish Airline has a fleet of four medium range TU-154M jets, a Russian aircraft, on domestic and international flights and four short-range Fokker-50s, German turboprops, according to the company's Web site.

Iran has a history of air accidents, often blamed on badly maintained planes. In June, 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 southeastern Iran, killing all 275 aboard.

In Belarus in September, a Tupolev-154 belonging to Kish Air on a Tehran-Minsk-Copenhagen went off course while making its landing approach at the Minsk-2 airport, striking trees which caused serious damage to the plane's wings. None of the 40 people aboard were hurt.

In 1995, an Iranian flight attendant hijacked a Kish Air Boeing 707 to Israel during a flight from Tehran. The plane was returned to Tehran with 174 passengers and crew.

Last month, a top Iranian aviation official asked the United States to lift sanctions on its airline industry as a humanitarian gesture so the country can buy spare parts for its airplanes.

Tehran has blamed many of its air crashes on U.S. sanctions, saying they have prevented the country from repairing and replacing an aging fleet that includes many Russian-made Tupolov planes. Iran has complained of trouble buying European-made planes as well because some Airbus parts are American-made.