- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran, Feb. 19 (UPI) — More than 300 people were killed Wednesday when an Iranian military plane crashed near the southeastern city of Kerman, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

In a condolence message to the nation and families of passengers, the Iranian Cabinet said the incident was a "tragic event in which a group of IRGC brothers" was killed.

Relief workers rushed to the area some 21 miles outside the Kerman. The Russian-made Ilyushin plane was flying between the southern city of Zahedan — near the intersection of the borders of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan — and Kerman on a domestic flight.

It was a few minutes away from landing at Kerman airport when it went off the radar screen at 5:45 p.m. local time.

Although the cause of the crash was unknown, air traffic controllers at Kerman said the pilot had reported bad weather and strong winds before the plane disappeared from the radar. IRNA said the death toll was 302.

All those aboard the aircraft were members of the Islamic Revolution's Guards Corps, said Ali Mowlavi Haqiqi, the head of the group in the Sistan Baluchestan province. The IRGC members served at the Imam Ali battalion of the Sistan Baluchestan province, IRNA said.

The elite IRGC possesses air, naval, and ground forces, and played a major role in the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

Last year, an Iranian plane crashed into the mountain on the west of the country, killing 117 people.

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