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Plane Landing in Iran Catches Fire; 29 Dead

A Russian-made jetliner skids off the runway in Mashhad; 119 survive, including the crew.

September 02, 2006|From Times Wire Services

TEHRAN — An Iranian passenger plane skidded off the runway as it was landing Friday and raked its wing along the ground, sparking a fire that killed 29 of the 148 people on board.

Rescue workers in the northeastern city of Mashhad used stretchers to carry survivors from the craft, which lay in a pool of water near the runway, its middle charred and part of the fuselage collapsed. Iranian television showed firefighters spraying the engines with water.

"The plane was shaking badly during the landing, then it suddenly lurched to the left," one survivor, Sahar Karimi, said by telephone from a hospital in Mashhad. "Then it caught fire, and all the passengers rushed to the emergency exit."

State television reported that a tire exploded as the plane landed, but a spokesman for Iran's civil aviation organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, said investigators had not confirmed that.

The 11 crew members survived, "and this can help the investigation team to reach its conclusions sooner," he said.

Nourollah Rezai Niaraki, head of Iran's civil aviation organization, told state TV that 43 people on board the plane were injured.

The flight by Iran Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran's national air carrier, was arriving from Bandar Abbas on Iran's southern coast.

Pilgrims flock to Mashhad throughout the year to visit the tomb of Imam Reza, the eighth Shiite Muslim imam. It was not clear whether any of those on board were making the pilgrimage.

Bandar Abbas, Iran's main port, is near the popular holiday destination of Qeshm island.

Iran has frequent airplane accidents, blamed on its aging fleet of aircraft and poor maintenance. In the deadliest recent crash, 110 people were killed in December when a military transport hit a building near Tehran's airport.

The airplane that crashed Friday was a Russian-made Tupolev 154.

A Tu-154 owned by Russia's Pulkovo Airlines crashed in Ukraine on Aug. 22 en route from a Russian resort to St. Petersburg, killing all 170 people on board.

In 2002, a Russian-made Tu-154 -- also operated by Iran Airtour -- crashed in the mountains of western Iran, killing all 119 people aboard.

The country's main carrier, Iran Air, has seven Tupolevs among its 43-plane fleet. It also has seven Boeings bought before the 1979 Islamic Revolution and 28 European Airbus and Fokker aircraft.

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