- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — An Iranian plane carrying 153 passengers and crew skidded off the runway and crashed Friday while landing in northeast Iran, killing at least 17 people, the state news agency said.

Among the dead was the manager of the privately owned Aria Airlines, operator of the plane.

Television footage showed the plane sitting at an angle, its tail resting awkwardly on the ground and the mangled front end pointing toward the sky. The rest of the aircraft appeared largely intact.

The crash came just over a week after another Iranian passenger plane nose-dived into the ground shortly after takeoff, killing all 168 people aboard.

Iran’s aging fleet is plagued by maintenance problems, blamed on financial straits and U.S. sanctions that make it harder for the country to get many types of spare parts.

The official IRNA news agency reported that in Friday’s crash, the plane’s tires failed on landing and the craft skidded into a wall. No wall was visible in the footage broadcast on TV.

The Russian-made Ilyushin-62 plane had flown from Tehran, the Iranian capital, to the northeastern city of Mashhad, 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) away.

Local official Ghahrman Rashid told the state news agency that 20 people were injured. He said all the survivors had been evacuated.

U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from updating its 30-year-old American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes as well. The country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, many of them Soviet-era planes that are harder to get parts for since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Iran’s worst crash came in February 2003 and also involved a Russian-made Ilyushin that plowed into the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people — mostly members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.

Some of the jets in Iran’s fleet are U.S.-made craft bought before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which led to a cutoff in ties between the nations. U.S. sanctions imposed after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in November 1979 have prevented Iran from buying parts for those planes or purchasing new ones.

The sanctions also bar sales of European jets with a certain amount of U.S. parts, limiting Iran’s ability to buy from Europe.

As a result, Iran has focused on Russian-built planes — like the Tupolev and Ilyushins, the Soviet-era workhorses for Russian civil air fleets.

After the Soviet collapse, government funding sharply declined for manufacturers of aircraft and spare parts, and other countries using the planes have had a harder time getting parts.

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