The black boxes from an Iranian airliner that crashed in flames near Tehran, killing all 168 people on board, have been found, a transport ministry official said yesterday.
“The plane’s recording and flight systems have been found,” Ahmad Majidi, head of the ministry’s crisis unit, told the official IRNA news agency. “Our experts are examining the black boxes to try to determine the cause of the crash.”
The Caspian Airlines Tupolev-154 caught fire in mid-air en route to Armenia and plunged into farmland on Wednesday, killing all 153 passengers and 15 crew in the worst air disaster in Iran in years. Witnesses said the plane was ablaze before smashing into the ground and exploding near a village near the northwestern city of Qazvin shortly after take-off from Tehran.
Television images showed a vast smoking crater at the disaster site littered with debris of plane parts, shoes and clothes.
One relief worker told a reporter at the site that all he found were “pieces of flesh and bones.”
“There is not a single piece which can be identified. There is not a single finger of anybody left,” he said, standing next to a body bag filled with pieces of flesh.
In Yerevan, the deputy head of the Armenian civil aviation organization, Arsen Pogossian, said the pilot had attempted an emergency landing after an engine caught fire.
He said 147 passengers were Iranian, of whom 31 were of Armenian origin, four were Armenians and two Georgians.
Iranian officials said 10 members of the junior national judo team were also among those killed.
In Sydney, officials said an Australian brother and sister, aged in their 20s, who possibly had dual nationality, were among the dead.
Witnesses spoke of seeing the plane on fire before it plunged to earth.
“I saw the plane when it was just ... above the ground. Its wheels were out and there was fire blazing from the lower parts,” witness Ablolfazl Idaji told the Fars news agency.
“It seemed the pilot was trying to land and moments later the plane hit the ground and broke into pieces that were scattered far and wide,” he said.
A farmer, 18-year-old Ahmad, gave a similar account.
“I was driving my tractor when I saw a big fire in the sky,” he said. “There were burnt parts scattered across the ground and I followed them and arrived at the crater. You could not believe your eyes. Nothing was left, but just a big hole with fire coming out of it.”
Iran’s civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said the plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini international airport at 11:33am but 16 minutes later “it disappeared off the radar and then it crashed.”