Wednesday, February 13, 2002

KHORRAMABAD, Iran An Iranian passenger jet crashed yesterday in the mountains of western Iran during snow and rain, and all 118 passengers and crew on board are believed dead, an official said.

Residents reported hearing an explosion and seeing the sky turn red as the Russian-made Tu-154 went down in the Sefid Kouh mountains outside Khorramabad.

Rescue workers were delayed by snow and heavy fog before finally reaching the crash site. Reza Niknam, an adviser to the governor-general of Lorestan province, said he saw many remains on the mountainside and doesn’t believe anybody could have survived.

“All the passengers and crew members died in the crash,” he said.

Hamid Fouladvand, another official who managed to reach the crash site, described the grim scene.

“I saw dozens of bodies scattered deep in the valley. I also saw pieces of the plane. Wolves and bears were in the area and if the bodies aren’t collected soon, they will be eaten,” Mr. Fouladvand said.

The cause of the crash of the Iran Air Tours flight from Tehran to Khorramambad, about 230 miles to the southwest, wasn’t known, though it had been raining and snowing in the mountains at the time of the crash.

Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that 105 passengers and 13 crew members were aboard the Tupolev.

Relatives of passengers gathered at Tehran Mehrabad Airport, weeping as they sought information on the fate of loved ones.

Nasrin Shafiiyan, who waited for news of her husband, Houshang, said the crash was the fault of “the stupid incompetent officials who go and collect secondhand planes from all over the former Soviet countries. What is this garbage they buy or rent?”

In Moscow, Tupolev chief designer Aleksandr Shingart told Echo Moscow radio that the plane “had a proper routine servicing in January. It was immaculate and was thoroughly checked by Russian experts.”

He suggested pilot error might be to blame for the crash.

President Mohammed Khatami named an emergency committee to investigate the cause of the crash, Iranian television reported.

Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of state carrier Iran Air, in recent years has leased mostly Russian-made Tupolev planes with Russian crews.

In May, a Yak-40 operated by the private Faraz Qeshm Airlines crashed in northeastern Iran, killing the transport minister and about 30 other passengers, including seven lawmakers. They were on their way to Gorgan, near the Caspian Sea, to inaugurate that city’s airport.

Iran also has an aging fleet of U.S.-made Boeings purchased before the 1979 Islamic revolution. The United States has refused to provide spare parts for Boeing planes as part of its economic sanctions against Iran.

Iran has said the U.S. stance on spare parts endangers the lives of passengers.

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