Tehran: A Russian-made Iranian passenger plane carrying 168 people crashed shortly after take-off on Wednesday, smashing into a field north-west of the capital and shattering into flaming pieces. All on board were killed in Iran’s worst air disaster in six years, officials said.
Before crashing, the plane’s tail was on fire as it circled in the air, one witness said.
Tragedy: People gather amid smoke and debris at the scene of the crash near Jannatabad village outside the city of Qazvin. AP
Iran has seen numerous crashes in recent years, usually blamed on poor maintenance. Iranian officials often blame US sanctions that prevent it from updating American aircraft bought before the 1979 Islamic revolution and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes as well.
Iranian airlines and the military have turned increasingly to Russian aircraft, which are not affected by sanctions, but have seen a string of accidents. Two other Tupolev crashes in Iran this decade have killed nearly 140 people.
The Caspian Airlines Tu-154M jet had taken off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning and was headed to the Armenian capital Yerevan.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Hossein Ayaznia, an aviation police official, said emergency workers were searching for the plane’s data recorders to get evidence of the cause.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a statement expressing condolences “to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei and the families of the dead” over what he called a “heart-wrenching tragedy” and ordered an investigation into the cause. Armenia’s President Serge Sarkisian also expressed his condolences and declared Thursday a day of mourning.
(Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed to this story.)