Iran plane crashes near Tehran's Mehrabad airport; 38 die, 10 injured

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane as they secure the scene of a crash near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. A civilian airliner crashed on take-off near the Mehrabad airport in the capital, Iranian news agencies said, with reports that almost 50 people were killed. (AFP)

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An Iran-140 Sepahan Air passenger plane bound for Tabas in northeast Iran with 48 passengers and crew on board crashed on a road near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on Sunday, killing at least 38 people, Iranian state media reported.

Initial reports said that all passengers and crew on board had been killed, but state media later reported that some passengers had been injured and transferred to hospital.

Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) said that eight or nine had survived and quoted a doctor as saying that one of the injured had regained consciousness.

State television said 38 people died instantly and 10 were injured and were transferred to hospital in critical condition.

Iranian Student News Agency (Isna) reported that five had been taken to hospital, but cited a doctor at Imam Hospital as saying they had died.

The Civil Aviation Authority said the passengers included two infants and three children under the age of 12, Irna reported.

The pilot detected technical issues four minutes after takeoff and tried to return to the airport, state television said, but the twin-engine turboprop crashed on a road at 9.18 am local time. One eyewitness said the plane crashed into a wall.

A photograph on Irna's website showed a huge plume of black smoke billowing over traffic standing at a road intersection. A photograph from the Iran Student News Agency showed a charred tailfin lying on the ground.

The plane's black box has yet to be found, the deputy minister of Roads and Urban Development said.

Iran's airlines have been plagued by crashes, which Iranian politicians blame on international sanctions that block the airlines from replacing their ageing fleets. About 14 crashes involving Iranian planes were reported in the decade to January 2011.

For years, planes have been kept in service through parts imported on the black market, cannibalised from other planes or reproduced locally, aviation sources say.

Iran's four largest carriers - Iran Air, Iran Aseman Airlines, Mahan Air and Iran Air Tours - all have average fleet ages above 22 years, Iranian media have reported. They serve a market of 76 million people.

U.S. companies Boeing Co and General Electric Co  have said they are seeking to export parts to Iran under the agreement for sanctions relief.

The chief of Iran Air said the airline will need at least 100 passenger jets once sanctions against the country are lifted.

POOR SAFETY RECORD

The plane that crashed - an Iran-140 - is a locally assembled version of the Antonov-140. Its safety record has come into question in the past.

In December 2002, an Iran-140 test flight crashed, killing at least 46 people, including engineers who had helped design it. The government claimed human error caused the crash, but many expressed worries about the aircraft.

More than a dozen large airlines and several fledgling carriers operate in Iran. The state carrier, Iran Air, has a fleet of about 40 planes including nine Boeing 747 jets, some of which were built before the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The safety record for the carriers has led to most Iranian flights being prevented from landing in the EU.

Mehrabad is located in a western suburb of Tehran and mainly functions as a domestic airport, although it also serves some international routes. 

EARLIER REPORT

A civilian airliner crashed moments after it took off from Tehran on Sunday, killing 48 people on board and narrowly avoiding more fatalities on the ground.

The plane was headed to the eastern city of Tabas, the IRNA and Fars news agencies said, when it crashed around 9.18 am (0448 GMT), after leaving Mehrabad airport.


Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane as photographers take pictures of the scene of a crash near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. A civilian airliner crashed on take-off near the Mehrabad airport in the capital, Iranian news agencies said. (AFP)

But it plummeted into the Azadi neighbourhood, just west of central Tehran, close to a residential area for military families.

"All the passengers are dead," a fire service spokesman said on IRNA.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane as they secure the scene of a crash near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. A civilian airliner crashed on take-off near the Mehrabad airport in the capital, Iranian news agencies said. (AFP)

Iran's deputy transport minister Ahmad Majidi said the Antonov An-140 turboprop plane was run by Sepahan Airlines and it had 40 passengers, including six children, and eight crew.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane as they secure the scene of a crash near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. (AFP)

An aircraft tailfin bearing Sepahan's dolphin logo could be seen sticking out of the road as security forces cordoned off the crash site.

Black smoke billowed from the wreckage, with officials saying the plane hit a wall and trees, close to a market.

"The scene was terrible, with the back of the plane in the middle of the street," one eyewitness said.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane that crashed near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. A civilian airliner crashed on take-off near the Mehrabad airport in the capita. (AFP)

"We were lucky because there was a market 500 metres (yards) away and a lot of people were there."

Another eyewitness told state television: "I was on my motorbike and I heard something behind me. I turned round and it was a plane, so I got on to the ground because it was so close."

Mehrabad Airport is near central Tehran and is Iran's main domestic hub and by far the busiest of the country's airports, serving routes to all Iranian cities.


Iranian Revolutionary Guards and security forces stand next to the remains of a plane that crashed near Tehran's Mehrabad airport on August 10, 2014. A civilian airliner crashed on take-off near the Mehrabad airport in the capital. (AFP)

Most international flights take off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, which is located further west of the Iranian capital.
Alireza Jahangirian, the head of Iran's civil aviation authority, said: "The plane crashed in trees. There were no casualties on the ground."

The Antonov An-140 is a small aircraft designed for regional use and with a range of around 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) and it can carry up to 52 people. Iranian airlines are one of the plane's biggest users.

Iran has suffered several air crashes in recent years, blamed on ageing planes, poor maintenance and a shortage of new parts because of international sanctions.



Airlines, including those run by the state, are short of finance and have seen business suffer because of banking restrictions imposed on the Islamic republic by the United States and Europe.

Iran's last major air crash was in January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 shattered on impact while attempting an emergency landing in a snowstorm in the country's northwest, killing 77 people.

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

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