- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 20, 2003

TEHRAN A military plane carrying 302 persons, all members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran yesterday, killing everyone aboard, state-run media reported.
The plane was on the way from Zahedan, on the Pakistani border, to Kerman, about 500 miles southeast of Tehran, state-run Tehran television reported. It crashed in a mountainous area about 20 miles from its destination.
The Russian-made Antonov airliner operated by Turkey's military lost contact with the control tower at 5:30 p.m. yesterday, according to the reports.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said that rescuers had reached the crash site, and that all 302 persons aboard had been killed. It said the plane's passengers and crew were all members of the Revolutionary Guards. Earlier reports said 270 were aboard, but the latest media updates didn't explain the increase.
State television and radio did not offer reasons for the crash and did not address the possibility of terrorism. There was heavy snowfall in many parts of Iran yesterday, including in Zahedan, which hadn't seen snow in three years.
Tehran television quoted an anonymous official as saying the forces had visited the impoverished Sistan-Baluchestan province, of which Zahedan is the capital, for an "important mission." The Revolutionary Guards are seen as the defenders of Iran's Islamic regime.
The government issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims, television and radio reports said.
Iranians were preparing for an Islamic holiday today, the feast of Velayat, when Shi'ites believe Islam's prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, as his successor.
Yesterday's crash was the latest in a string of air disasters in Iran, most involving Russian-built aircraft.
A Ukrainian An-140 aircraft flew into a mountainside Dec. 23, 2002, while preparing to land, killing the estimated 46 scientists aboard.
In February 2002, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 airliner, carrying 119 persons, smashed into snow-covered mountains not far from its destination of Khorramabad, 230 miles southwest of Tehran.

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