Sat, Sep 02, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Eighty passengers die as plane catches fire in Iran


Eighty people died when their passenger plane caught fire as it was landing in Mashhad, northeastern Iran, yesterday, Iranian state TV reported.

State television said the plane slipped off the side of the runway when a tire burst on landing, and subsequently caught fire.

The flight, by Iran Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran's national air carrier, originated in Bandar Abbas, in the south of the country.

The Russian-made TU-154 was carrying 147 passengers. None of the crew members died in the fire, and other passengers were evacuated, state TV reported.

Television pictures showed a broken-up plane, parts of its fuselage charred, lying on the side of the runway.

Firefighters were shown trying to extinguish the fire in the smoldering wreck.

An Iran Airtour official confirmed the incident involved one of its planes but gave no details.

State television did not say whether the fire had been extinguished, only that it was under control and that investigators were on the scene.

Mashhad, located 1,000km northeast of Tehran, is visited by some 12 million people annually on pilgrimage to its Shiite Islamic shrines.

Air safety experts say Iran has a poor safety record, with a string of crashes in recent decades, many involving Russian-made aircraft.

US sanctions on the Islamic state have prevented it from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its aging fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from the former Soviet Union.

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