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Iranian plane crashes after takeoff, 39 dead

Aug. 11, 2014, Tehran, Iran - A locally built Iranian passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran on Sunday, killing 39 people and reviving questions about the safety of a cash-strapped aviation sector left hobbled by international sanctions.


August 11, 2014
By The Associated Press

President Hassan Rouhani offered his condolences to victims' families
and quickly ordered an investigation into the crash. Similar planes
operated by Iranian carriers will be grounded until the probe is
complete, he directed.

 

The plane was based on a relatively obscure Ukrainian design that has been involved in previous Iranian air disasters.

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The Sepahan Air regional airliner, bound
for the eastern town of Tabas, went down in a residential area shortly
after takeoff at 9:20 a.m. from Tehran's Mehrabad airport.

 

State TV said the plane's tail struck the
cables of an electricity tower before it hit the ground and burst into
flames. The official IRNA news agency said the plane suffered an engine
failure. Whatever the ultimate cause, quick thinking by the pilot may
have saved some lives.

 

"We should be thankful to God that the
pilot did all he could to steer the plane away from residential
buildings and fortunately did not crash into them. Otherwise, we would
have been dealing with a much worse crisis," said Jalal Maleki,
spokesman of Tehran's Fire Department.

 

Known as an IrAn-140 or Iran-140, the
twin-engine turboprop is a version of the Antonov An-140 regional plane
and is assembled under license in Iran. It can carry up to 52
passengers.

 

A Ukranian-made An-140
crashed near the central Iranian city of Isfahan in 2002, killing 46
mostly Ukranian and Russian experts travelling to witness the maiden
flight of the Iranian-built version of the plane.

 

A similar Iranian-made version crashed
during a training flight in Isfahan in February 2009, killing five
onboard, according to a report by state-run Press TV at the time.

 

Iranian airlines, including those run by
the state, are chronically strapped for cash, rely on aging planes and
have a spotty maintenance record.

 

While some operate Boeing and Airbus
models, spare parts for Western-made planes are often hard to come by —
largely because of sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear program.

 

Those difficulties have left Iranian
airlines increasingly reliant on planes developed by the Soviet Union
and its successor states, though parts for aging Soviet-era planes can
also be tough to get.

 

At the crash site, members of the elite
Revolutionary Guard worked to secure the scene from onlookers while
security and rescue personnel combed the wreckage. The plane's mangled
but largely intact tail section was torn from the fuselage and came to
rest on a nearby road.

 

State TV said the bodies of some of the
victims were so badly burned that they could not be identified.

They
will be handed over to relatives after DNA tests are carried out to
determine their identities, it said.

 

Eyewitness Hassan Molla said he heard a roaring sound as the plane came in low overhead, one wing tilting.

 

"There was no smoke or anything. It was
absolutely sound and in good condition" before the crash and what
appeared to be multiple explosions, he said.

 

An official for Sepahan Air told The
Associated Press from the central city of Isfahan that the carrier is
affiliated with the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, also
known as HESA. The airline was set up in 2010 and has not had any
previous crashes, said the official, who refused to provide his name.

 

HESA has ties to Iran's Ministry of Defence and is the company that assembles the IrAn-140.

 

Lawmaker Mehrdad Lahouti suggested Sunday that the earlier accident should have been a wake-up call.

 

"Lawmakers visited the production site of
the plane and expressed concern about its (safety)," IRNA quoted him as
saying. "This company should have not been allowed to operate the plane
to avoid such

a bitter incident."

 

President Hassan Rouhani ordered that airlines stop using this type of plane until a full investigation is carried out.

 

Rouhani also expressed
condolences to the family of the victims and ordered Health Minister
Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi to take all the necessary measures to treat
and provide adequate care to those injured in the incident, his website,
president.ir, reported.

 

Mehrabad, located in western Tehran, is
the busier of two main airports serving the capital, and primarily
handles domestic flights. Most international flights use the newer Imam
Khomeini International Airport.

 

The country's creaking airline industry has been hit by a series of deadly crashes.

 

In March of this year, a small plane
belonging to the State Aviation Organization crashed while on a test
flight near the tourist resort of Kish Island, killing all four crew
members.

 

The last major airliner crash in Iran
happened in January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 broke to pieces on
impact while trying an emergency landing in a snowstorm in northwestern
Iran, killing at least 77 people.

 

In July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner
crashed in northwest Iran shortly after taking off from the capital,
killing all 168 on board. A Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of
the Revolutionary Guard crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran
in February 2003, killing 302 people aboard.