The Guardian: Iranian officials were facing an angry backlash yesterday following the air disaster that claimed at least 116 lives, amid allegations that the military plane that ploughed into a block of flats was allowed to take off despite serious safety concerns.
· Grieving families identify victims as toll rises to 116
· Military deny ageing plane was forced to fly
Robert Tait in Tehran
Iranian officials were facing an angry backlash yesterday following the air disaster that claimed at least 116 lives, amid allegations that the military plane that ploughed into a block of flats was allowed to take off despite serious safety concerns.
As relatives tried to identify the victims, it emerged that the Hercules C-130 transport plane pilot had initially refused to fly because of technical difficulties. An inquiry was launched yesterday into allegations that concerns about the plane’s airworthiness had been over-ridden. The claims were vigorously denied by senior military officials.
Iran has an ageing fleet of planes, but the widespread dismay over this latest incident was summed up by a Tehran councillor, Rasul Khadem, who accused the Iranian military of “playing with people’s lives”. “How much longer do we have to use planes that should be sent to the scrapheap?” Mr Khadem wrote in the pro-reformist Sharq newspaper.
The doomed flight, carrying 94 people – 68 of them Iranian journalists assigned to cover military exercises in the southern port of Bandar Abbas – was scheduled to leave Tehran’s Mehrabad airport at 7am, but did not depart until seven hours later following prolonged efforts to solve mechanical problems, according to local media.
When it did, the pilot immediately requested permission to return for an emergency landing, but was twice denied permission due to lack of runway space. When permission was granted, the aircraft crashed into a 10-storey block of flats in Tehran’s heavily populated Shahrak-e Towhid neighbourhood, which lies under the flight path.
All those aboard were killed. With its fuel tanks full, the plane burst into flames which spread and engulfed surrounding flats, trapping many residents inside. Cars in the street were also engulfed, some with their drivers caught behind the wheel.
The heavy toll within Iran’s media community has lent added weight to the criticism, with the normally pliant press posing unusually pointed questions. The conservative Hashahri newspaper demanded the authorities explain why a plane with so many technical problems was allowed to take off.
Iran’s poor air safety record is believed to have been exacerbated by American sanctions, which limit access to modern aircraft and vital spare parts. Iran has a fleet of 15 C-130s, all bought from the US before the 1979 revolution.
The crash was Iran’s worst air tragedy since February 2003, when a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 military transport plane crashed in the south of the country, killing 302 people, most of them members of the elite revolutionary guards.