Iranian passenger jet crashes killing 117

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The Independent Online

An Iranian passenger plane crashed yesterday in the snowy mountains of western Iran, killing all 117 people aboard.

An Iranian passenger plane crashed yesterday in the snowy mountains of western Iran, killing all 117 people aboard.

The Russian-built Tupolev, belonging to Iran Air Tours, an affiliate of the state carrier Iran Air, was flying from the capital, Tehran, to Khorramabad when it disappeared from radar screens. The Tu-154 crashed into the Sefid Kouh mountains, 15 miles west of Khorramabad, minutes after losing contact with the control tower at the airport.

Ardeshir Ghiyasvand, a villager from Key-Mirzavand, close to the crash site, said: "I heard the huge, really horrifying sound of an explosion. Moments later, I saw that the clouds and fog over the mountains suddenly became red, everything turned from white to red. It remained like that for a few seconds and then circles of fire dropped down the peaks." He said it had been raining and snowing over the mountains at the time, and visibility had been minimal because of dense fog.

By midday, dozens of weeping relatives had gathered at Tehran Mehrabad airport. "Where are you? What happened to you," Nasrin Shafiiyan wailed, beating her face and chest as she waited for news of her husband, Houshang, who was on the flight.

She said that the crash was the fault of "the stupid, incompetent officials who go and collect second-hand ... planes from all over the former Soviet countries. What is this garbage they buy or rent?" The dead - 105 passengers plus crew - included four Spaniards and four government workers, officials said.

A team of government experts was dispatched to the scene as President Mohammad Khatami ordered an investigation. The Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran said more than 100 rescue workers were on hand, but snow would delay their search until today.

The latest in a series of air disasters in Iran prompted calls in parliamentfor the resignation of the Transport Minister, Ahmad Khorram, and the head of Iran's aviation agency, Behzad Mazaheri.

One MP, Azam Naseripour, said: "Every once in a while a plane crashes, there is some debate and then the whole thing is forgotten. No one is ready to take responsibility for the lack of air security in Iran." A colleague said parliament might impeach the minister if he did not resign.

Iran's air fleet includes many Boeings acquired before the 1979 Islamic revolution. United States sanctions bar the sale of Boeing airliners to the Islamic republic and hinder the acquisition of other aircraft, many of which rely on American-built engines or other components. Iran has turned to Russia and Ukraine for cheaper planes.

A Yak-40, a Russian-built aircraft privately run by Faraz Qeshm Airlines, crashed in north-east Iran in May, killing the transport minister and about 30 other passengers. On 3 July, a Tu-154 slammed into a Siberian meadow, killing all 145 people aboard. That crash was the 20th involving a Tu-154 since it entered service in the early 1970s. With some 1,000 planes built, it is the most common airliner in Russia and is used in many other countries.

In Moscow, the chief designer for Tupolev, Aleksandr Shingart, said the plane "had a proper routine service in January. It was immaculate and thoroughly checked."