Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Iran air crash toll revised to 29

FLAMING WRECKAGE More than 40 people were hurt after one of the plane's tires burst during the landing, causing the plane to hit a wall and explode into flames

AFP , TEHRAN

Twenty-nine people were killed on Friday when an Iranian airliner caught fire after landing in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran's civil aviation chief said, lowering initial accounts that had listed up to 80 dead.

Talking on state television, Nurollah Rezai Niaraki of the Civil Aviation Organization said 29 bodies had been recovered from the plane, 43 people were injured and the rest of the 148 people on board survived unhurt.

He added that some of those injured had been treated as out-patients at Mashhad hospitals.

State television had earlier said the death toll on the flight to Mashhad from Bandar Abbas was at least 80.

Niaraki also said that since the flight crew survived the crash, a better understanding of the cause of the accident will eventually surface.

State media previously reported that the Russian-made Tupolev 154, on an internal flight from the southern port of Bandar Abbas, skidded off the runway and crashed into the nearby barriers, leaving gaping holes in the fuselage.

The incident was the latest tragedy to hit Iran's aviation industry, which has a fleet largely made up of Soviet or old Western planes because of US sanctions imposed after the Islamic revolution in 1979.

According to figures published in the Iranian media and not counting Friday's accident in Mashhad, more than 1,460 people were killed in 17 air crashes over the past 25 years, including an Iranian plane shot down over the Gulf by a US warship in 1988.

The first television pictures showed the plane, owned by the Iran Airtours carrier, lying flat with its wheels sheared off on the outskirts of the airport. One huge hole was burned into the center of the fuselage.

Rescue workers used hoses to douse the burning plane, turning the ground around into a quagmire of mud and water. Several corpses lay on the ground beside the plane, swathed in blankets.

"As the plane was landing one of its tires burst, forcing to it to swerve off the runway before hitting nearby barriers and bursting into flames," an airport official said.

An Iranian civil aviation official was quoted in the media as saying the plane did not ask permission for making an emergency landing before the accident.

US sanctions mean that Iran can only shop for Airbus or Boeing planes on the used market, and Iranian officials have blamed the blockade for the regular plane crashes in the Islamic republic.

The Iranian media reported that regular flights have been resumed at Mashhad International Airport.

The sanctions cover not only US-made airplanes and spare parts, but also those made by Europe's Airbus consortium when a significant number of parts originate in the US.

The crash comes as Iran is threatened with further sanctions over its controversial nuclear program after it failed to meet a deadline on Thursday to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment work.

Washington expressed sorrow over the plane crash deaths.

"We are sorry to learn of the innocent loss of life in the crash of the TU-154 in Mashhad," US State Department spokeswoman Janelle Hironimus said.

"We want to send our sincere condolences to all in Iran who lost loved ones in this regrettable accident," she said.

The US, which is leading a drive to impose UN Security Council sanctions, has predicted that the new penalties will be agreed upon as early as this month.

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