IranAir plane crash pilots reported fault

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The Independent Online

The crew of an IranAir jet which crashed in a snowstorm, killing up to as 77 people, reported a technical failure before the disaster, it emerged today.

The Boeing 727 operated by Iran's national airline was carrying 106 people when it crashed and broke into several pieces as it was making an emergency landing in the city of Orumiyeh yesterday.

The pilots had reported a technical failure to the control tower, the semi-official Mehr news agency said, quoting a deputy provincial governor, Ebrahim Fatholahi.

The nature of the technical failure was unclear. A spokesman for the Iranian civil aviation organisation, Abbas Mosayebi, said only that the plane "faced an incident", state TV reported.

The network also said the aircraft disappeared from radar and went down in farmland after making a second attempt to land. There was no word on what might have caused the crash.

The aircraft was heading from Tehran to Orumiyeh, the capital of West Azerbaijan province, a distance of about 460 miles.

State TV showed footage of rescue workers and farmers searching for survivors last night in parts of the wrecked plane under snowfall and in the dark.

There was some confusion today over the death toll. Provincial official Javad Mahmoudi said 77 people died and 27 were injured, some critically. But Iran's transport minister Hamid Behbahani said there were 105 people aboard, including two children. He said 72 died and 33 were slightly hurt.

Heavy snow complicated rescue efforts, said the head of the State Emergency Centre, Gholam Reza Masoumi, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. That report also said there was fog in the area.

The plane broke into several pieces, but there was no explosion or fire, said Mahmoud Mozaffar, head of the rescue department of Iran's Red Crescent Society.

Iran has a history of frequent air accidents blamed on its ageing aircraft and poor maintenance. IranAir's fleet includes Boeing and Airbus aircraft, many of them bought before the country's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to a cut-off in ties between the two nations.

Iranian airlines, including those run by the state, are chronically strapped for cash, and maintenance has suffered, experts say. US sanctions prevent Iran from updating its 30-year-old American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes as well.

The country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, many of them Soviet-era planes that are harder to get parts for since the Soviet Union's fall.

In July 2009 a Russian-made jetliner crashed in north-west Iran shortly after taking off from the capital, killing all 168 on board.

In February 2003 a Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard crashed in the mountains of south-eastern Iran, killing 302 people aboard.

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