Iranian authorities faced bitter recriminations yesterday over the deaths of around 110 people, many of them journalists, when a decrepit military plane ploughed into a densely-populated area of Tehran.
Several newspapers claimed the C-130 transport plane -- bought from the US before the Islamic revolution nearly three decades ago and starved of spare parts -- had been told to take off despite serious reservations.
Just minutes after leaving the runway, the plane suffered engine failure and crashed into the foot of a housing block in a densely populated area of the city. Official media have put the death toll at between 108 and 116, including all 94 passengers and crew.
"The plane should have taken off at seven in the morning. My husband called me from the plane at eight to say there were technical problems. I was very worried," said the wife of Mohammad Karbalai, a photographer killed in the crash.
"I called him back at 10 o'clock, and the plane was still on the ground. He said the pilot was refusing to take off because of technical problems," she told her late husband's newspaper, the conservative Hamshahri daily.
Among the dead passengers were 68 journalists who were being flown to the southeastern port city of Bandar Abbas and were then to travel to Charbahar further south to report on military exercises.
"It is a disaster for the journalistic community and the government is declaring a day of mourning for the media," Culture Minister Mohammad Hossein Safar-Harandi said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
Iran's air force is believed to have no more than around 15 of the US-made C-130s in operation. It bought the workhorses, also known as Hercules, before the 1979 Islamic revolution when Iran was ruled by the Washington-backed shah.
Since then, clerical-ruled Iran has been subject to tough US sanctions, hindering the purchase of critical spare parts for all US-made planes.