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Dozens killed as airplane crashes in Kyrgyzstan

August 25, 2008|Sergei L. Loiko and Megan K. Stack | Times Staff Writers

MOSCOW — Dozens of people were killed Sunday when a passenger jet chartered by an Iranian tourism company crashed and burned after taking off from Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan.

Ninety people were aboard the plane, which was bound for Tehran, Asylvek Abdygulov, senior expert at the Kyrgyzstan Emergency Situations Ministry, said by telephone from Bishkek, the capital. Of those, only 25 people were confirmed to have survived by late Sunday, he said. Five passengers were hospitalized in extremely critical condition.

Survivors included seven out of 17 players from a Bishkek high school basketball team aboard the flight, government spokeswoman Roza Daudova told the Associated Press.

"Our specialists and rescue teams are working at the site of the crash, and of course we are doing everything possible to save lives," Abdygulov said. "It's too early to say what caused the crash."

The Boeing 737 had taken off about 8:30 p.m. from Manas airport, near the village of Dzhangi-Dzher, about 18 miles from Bishkek.

"Shortly after takeoff the crew got in touch with the airport and requested to land back at the airport due to an emergency situation on board," Abdygulov said. "Apparently they realized they could not get back to the airport and tried to crash-land."

Communication was lost at 8:42 p.m., he said. The plane crashed into a field and caught fire.

Fourteen ambulances raced to the crash site, the Kyrgyzstan Health Ministry told Interfax news agency. Those were all the ambulances available in the capital, a spokeswoman said.

Aboard the plane were 83 passengers, six crew members and one representative of the Iranian company, Aseman.

A mountainous, desperately poor former Soviet republic, Kyrgyzstan borders China to the east and Kazakhstan to the north. The country has a U.S. air base, which is near Sunday's crash site. The base dispatched ambulances and firefighting equipment in response to a request for help, the Associated Press reported.

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megan.stack@latimes.com

Loiko reported from Moscow and Times Moscow Bureau Chief Stack from Tbilisi, Georgia.

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