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All Aboard Iran Plane Believed Dead

February 12, 2002

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KHORRAMABAD, Iran (AP) _ All 118 passengers and crew aboard a plane that crashed Tuesday into the mountains of western Iran are believed dead, an Iranian official said.

``All the passengers and crew members died in the crash,″ said Reza Niknam, an adviser to the governor-general of Lorestan province.

Niknam said he saw many remains on the mountainside and believes nobody could have survived.

Hamid Fouladvand, another official who managed to reach the crash site, described the grim scene.

``I saw dozens of bodies scattered deep in the valley. I also saw pieces of the plane. Wolves and bears were in the area and if the bodies aren’t collected soon, they will be eaten,″ Fouladvand said.

The cause of the crash of the Russian-made Tu-154 wasn’t known, though it had been raining and snowing in the mountains at the time of the crash. The snow and dense fog also hindered the work of rescue teams.

The Iran Air Tours flight out of the capital, Tehran, crashed at 7:55 a.m., 15 miles west of its destination, Khorramabad, state-run Iranian television said. Contact with the control tower at Khorramabad airport minutes ended moments before the crash in the Sefid Kouh mountains.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that 105 passengers and 13 crew members were aboard the Tupolev.

``I heard a huge, really horrifying sound of an explosion,″ said Ardeshir Ghiyasvand of Key-Mirzavand, the closest village to the crash site. ``Moments later, I saw that the clouds and fog over the mountains suddenly became red, everything turned from white to red.″

He said it had been raining and snowing over the mountains at the time, and visibility had been minimal because of dense fog.

Search efforts were called off Tuesday night because of bad weather but would resume in the morning, Iranian television said, quoting a senior police official it identified only as Khorshidvand.

An official in Khorramabad, identified by state television only as Manzari, said that search teams had found one of the plane’s tires.

Relatives of passengers gathered at Tehran Mehrabad Airport, weeping as they sought information on the fate of loved ones.

``Where are you? What happened to you?″ shouted Nasrin Shafiiyan, crying and beating her face and chest as she waited for news of her husband Houshang.

She said the crash was the fault of ``the stupid incompetent officials who go and collect secondhand ... planes from all over the former Soviet countries. What is this garbage they buy or rent?″

In Moscow, Tupolev chief designer Aleksandr Shingart told Ekho Moskvy radio that the plane ``had a proper routine servicing in January. It was immaculate and was thoroughly checked ... by Russian experts from the Vnukovo repair works near Moscow.″

He suggested pilot error might be to blame for the crash.

President Mohammad Khatami named an emergency committee to investigate the cause of the crash, Iranian television reported.

Aviation experts from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the confederation of former Soviet Republics, were also sent to Iran to investigate the crash, according to Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency.

Several Iranian legislators, meanwhile, called for the resignation or impeachment of Iran’s Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of state carrier Iran Air, in recent years has leased mostly Russian-made Tupolev planes with Russian crew.

A Russian-built aircraft, a Yak-40 operated by the private Faraz Qeshm Airlines crashed in northeastern Iran in May, killing the transport minister and about 30 other passengers including seven lawmakers. They were on their way to Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, to inaugurate that city’s airport.

Iran also has an aging fleet of U.S.-made Boeings purchased before the 1979 Islamic revolution. The United States has refused to provide spare parts for Boeing planes as part of its wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iran.

Iran has said the U.S. stance on spare parts endangered the lives of innocent passengers. In recent years, it has purchased a small number of Airbus passenger planes.

On July 3, a Tu-154 slammed into a Siberian meadow, killing all 145 people aboard. With some 1,000 planes built since it entered service in the early 1970s, the Tu-154 is the most widely used jetliner in Russia and is used in many other countries.

In February 1993, a Russian-made Tu-134 on lease to Iran collided with a military plane near Tehran, killing all 132 people on board.

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