Reuters: Two badly damaged black box recorders have been recovered from a Tupolev aircraft that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board, official media reported on Thursday.
By Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN, July 16 (Reuters) – Two badly damaged black box recorders have been recovered from a Tupolev aircraft that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board, official media reported on Thursday.
The cause of the worst air crash in Iran for six years was still unknown, Iran's state English-language Press TV said.
The aircraft was on its way to neighbouring Armenia's capital Yerevan when it came down after catching fire in mid-air and ploughing into farmland 16 minutes after departing Tehran.
The Russian-built Caspian Airlines plane exploded on impact and left only scattered bits of incinerated metal and fragments of the bodies of 153 passengers and 15 crew across a wide area around a deep smoking crater in the ground.
"Iran has recovered two black boxes from the passenger plane that crashed in the northwest of the country," Press TV said. Other Iranian media carried similar reports.
Press TV's website quoted an official as saying the two boxes — which could contain vital clues to explaining the crash — were heavily damaged but that experts were trying to retrieve data from them.
The semi-official Fars News Agency said authorities were still searching for a third black box.
Most of those onboard were Iranians, but there were also Armenian and Georgian citizens.
Deputy Transport Minister Ahmad Majidi said DNA testing would be needed to identify the remains.
"All gathered parts of dead bodies scattered in the crash area have been handed over to Qazvin's coroner office and will be transferred to Tehran's coroner office today," Fars quoted Majidi as saying.
OLD FOE OFFERS CONDOLENCES
The United States, the Islamic Republic's arch foe, extended condolences on Wednesday to families of the victims.
Washington has no diplomatic ties with Tehran but has been trying to reach out to the country as part of an effort to coax it into negotiations over its disputed nuclear programme.
"The United States extends it condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in today's crash of a Caspian Airlines plane carrying passengers from Tehran, Iran to Yerevan, Armenia," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
U.S. sanctions bar the sale of Boeing aircraft to Iran and hinder it buying other aircraft or spares from the West, many of which rely on U.S.-built engines and parts.
Air safety experts have said Iran has a poor record, with a string of crashes in the past few decades — many involving Russian-made aircraft. It was the third deadly crash of a Tupolev Tu-154 in Iran since 2002.
It was the deadliest crash since 2003 when an Ilyushin Il-76, also Russian built, crashed into an Iranian mountain.
Eight members of Iran's national junior judo team and two coaches were among the dead as well as a former Iranian MP representing Iran's Armenian minority and, reportedly, the wife of the head of Georgia's diplomatic mission in Iran.
Six Armenian and two Georgian citizens were on board, the deputy head of the Armenian civilian aviation authority Arsen Poghosyan said at Yerevan Airport on Wednesday.
Iran is home to some 100,000 ethnic Armenians, many of whom frequently fly between Tehran and Yerevan to visit relatives.
Tehran-based Caspian Airlines was set up in 1993 and flies an all-Tupolev fleet linking Iranian cities and also routes to the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Armenia. (Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran and Washington bureau; Editing by Janet Lawrence)