Reuters: An Iranian airliner caught fire after a tire burst on landing at an airport in the northeast of the country on Friday, killing 28 of the 148 people aboard, state television reported. By Alireza Ronaghi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – An Iranian airliner caught fire after a tire burst on landing at an airport in the northeast of the country on Friday, killing 28 of the 148 people aboard, state television reported.
Earlier reports had suggested a death toll of 80 but this has been steadily lowered.
Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati told state television from the city of Mashhad, where the accident happened, that the death toll was 28 and that 30 passengers had been hospitalized. He said 11 members of the crew had survived.
“The cause of the accident is being investigated,” he said.
Television pictures showed a broken-up plane with parts of its fuselage charred. The cockpit appeared largely unaffected by the fire, as did much of the rear portion of the aircraft.
“The plane was going up and down when we were trying to land. When we landed, I heard a huge sound from underneath the plane … The plane leaned to one side and started sliding on the ground and then a fire started from the front of the plane,” one of the passengers told state TV from his hospital bed.
Firefighters were shown extinguishing fires in parts of the smoldering wreck and clambering over other areas of the fuselage, carrying out corpses covered in blankets.
The plane, an Iranairtour Russian-built Tupolev 154, caught fire at 1.45 p.m. (1015 GMT) after slipping off the side of the runway when a tire burst on landing at Masshad, site of Iran’s holiest shrine, state media said.
“The flight crew and the pilot of this flight survived, and this will be a great help to find out the cause of the accident as soon as possible,” Rahmati told Iran’s students news agency ISNA.
An Iranairtour official, who asked not to be identified, said the airline was contacting families of the victims. He also said flights to Mashhad had been canceled after the crash.
Pilgrims flock to Mashhad throughout the year to visit the tomb of Imam Reza, the eighth Muslim Shi’ite imam. It was not clear if any of those on board the Iranairtour flight were making the pilgrimage.
The southern city of Bandar Abbas, where the plane began its journey, is the Islamic Republic’s main port and is located near the popular Iranian holiday destination of Qeshm island.
Air safety experts say Iran has a poor safety record with a string of crashes in recent decades, many involving Russian-made aircraft.
U.S. sanctions on the Islamic state have prevented it from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its aging fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from the former Soviet Union.
The last major plane disaster in Iran involved a military plane which crashed in January, killing at least 11 people. Another military plane hit a tower block in Tehran in December, killing 94 people on board and at least 22 people on the ground.
The most recent Iranian civil aviation disaster involved a Kish airlines Fokker-50 plane, which crashed in February 2004 during landing in Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates killing 43 of the 45 passengers and crew aboard.