Iran plane crash kills 116

At least 116 people have been killed when an aging Iranian military transport plane suffered engine failure and smashed into a densely populated area of Tehran, setting a high-rise block ablaze.

All 94 passengers and crew on board the C-130 died in the crash at the foot of a high-rise housing block and domestic gas supply depot.

The aircraft was bought from the United States before the Islamic revolution nearly three decades ago,

"The plane disintegrated and all the bodies are burned. A young girl jumped from the window because of the flames. Most of the victims on the ground are women and children who were at home," said Lieutenant Nasser Sedigh-Nia, who witnessed the crash.

"The fuel tanks were full, which is why the explosion was so big," said the air force officer, one of many airport staff who live in the area.

"Our C-130s are in a bad state because of the US sanctions: we can't get spare parts."

Military exercise

Among the dead passengers were 78 journalists, 40 of them from state television, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

They were flying to the southeastern port city of Bandar Abbas and were then to travel to Charbahar further south to report on military exercises.

State radio said several army public relations officers were also on the plane.

In total 116 bodies have been recovered, interior ministry spokesman
Mojtaba Mir-Abdolahi said while state television put the death toll, including the 94 passengers, at "around 110".

Dozens more people on the ground were reported injured and anti-riot police were called in to beat away onlookers blamed for blocking access for emergency workers.

The four-engine plane encountered engine failure immediately after take-off from central Tehran's Mehrabad airport, state television said.

It tried to return for an emergency landing but went down close to the airport which handles international, domestic and military flights, in the Yaftabad district.

Yaftabad is in the working class south of the sprawling capital and visibility is very low due to a blanket of thick brown-yellow smog.

"I saw the airplane, there was smoke coming out of one engine. It went into the ground very fast, very close to the building," said 30-year-old Mohammad Rasooli, a local resident.

"There was a huge explosion which engulfed the housing block."

A local police commander, Nasser Shabani, said many of the dead on the ground were trapped in the nine-storey building and suffocated from the smoke or were burned.

In a message carried by state media, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered his condolences.

"I learned of the catastrophe and the fact that members of the press have been martyred," said the president, currently on a visit to Saudi Arabia. "I offer my condolences to the supreme leader and to the families of the victims."

Aging aircraft

Iran's air force is believed to have no more than around 15 of the US-made C-130s in operation.

It bought the workhorses, also known as Hercules, before the 1979 Islamic revolution when Iran was ruled by the Washington-backed shah.

Since then, clerical-ruled Iran has been subject to tough US sanctions, hindering the purchase of critical spare parts for all US-made planes in its air force, civilian flag carrier Iran Air and domestic airlines.

A C-130 crashed near Tehran due to technical problems in June 2003, killing seven people.

In February 2000 a C-130 crashed on take-off and collided with an
Iran Air Airbus 300, killing 10 people.

And in 1997, a C-130 crashed near the northwestern city of Mashhad after encountering engine trouble, killing 86 people.

Source: SBS

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