By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer – 51 mins ago
TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian passenger plane carrying 168 people crashed a quarter-hour after takeoff Wednesday, smashing into a field northwest of the capital and shattering to pieces. State television said all on board were killed.
The impact gouged a deep trench in the dirt field, which was shown littered with smoking wreckage in footage shown on state TV. It showed a large chunk of a wing, but much of the wreckage appeared to be in small pieces, and emergency workers and witnesses picked around the shredded metal for bodies.
The Russian-made Caspian Airlines jet was heading from Tehran to the Armenian capital Yerevan near the village of Jannatabad outside the city of Qazvin, around 75 miles northwest of Tehran, state television said. It crashed at about 11:30 am, 16 minutes after taking off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport, TV reported.
The Qazvin emergency services director Hossein Bahzadpour told the IRNA news agency that the plane was completely destroyed and shattered to pieces, and the wreckage was in flames. "It his highly likely that all the passengers on the flight were killed," Bahzadpour said.
Iranian Civil Aviation Organization spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh told state television that 153 passengers and 15 crewmembers were on board. State TV said all were killed.
A Caspian Airlines representative told AP in Yerevan that most of the passengers were Armenians, and that some Georgian citizens were also on board. The representative spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the press.
Also among the passengers were eight members of Iran's national youth judo team, along with two trainers and a delegation chief, who were scheduled to train with the Armenian judo team before attending competitions in Hungary on Aug. 6, state TV said.
Caspian Airlines is a Russian-Iranian joint venture founded in 1993. Iran has frequent plane crashes often because of bad maintenance of its aging aircraft. Tehran blames the problem in part on U.S. sanctions that prevent Iran from getting spare parts for some planes. Caspian Airlines, however, uses Russian-made Tupolevs whose maintenance would be less impaired by American sanctions.
In February 2006, a Russian-made TU-154 operated by Iran Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran's national carrier, crashed during landing in Tehran, killing 29 of the 148 people on board. Another Airtour Tupolev crashed in 2002 in the mountains of western Iran, killing all 199 on board.
The crashes have also affected Iran's military. In December 2005, 115 people were killed when a U.S.-made C-130 plane, crashed into a 10-story building near Tehran's Mehrabad airport. In Nov. 2007, a Russian-made Iranian military plane crashed shortly after takeoff killing 36 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
AP writer Avet Demourian in Yerevan, Armenia, contributed to this report.