Plane plows into Tehran building

Plane plows into Tehran buildingBy Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN (Reuters) – A military plane carrying dozens of journalists crashed into a Tehran apartment block and exploded on Tuesday, killing at least 116 people, officials said.

All 94 passengers and crew on the C-130 transport plane died, the Interior Ministry said. Several children, at home because schools were closed due to a smog alert in the capital, were among the dead in the building, witnesses added.
The Tehran Coroner’s Office told the ISNA students news agency it had received 116 corpses. Twenty-eight people, some in critical condition, were taken to hospital.

"I was sitting at home when the windows suddenly smashed and flames came pouring in," a woman in her fifties with cuts on her neck, told Reuters. "There was smoke everywhere."

Iran’s fire brigade chief Ahmad Ziaie told state television the building which was hit, located in a densely populated area of south Tehran, housed about 150 people. The crash occurred in the early afternoon.

"Both the main and reserve fuel tanks were full which is why the plane went up in flames as soon as it hit," he said.

The Air Force plane was bound for the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas. It was taking 68 local journalists to cover military exercises. Military personnel were also aboard.

Minutes after take off the pilot reported engine trouble and requested an emergency landing at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, but crashed just short of the runway, police said.

Iranian journalists at the scene wept and consoled one another over their colleagues’ deaths.

"I was supposed to be on the plane as well so I don’t know whether to be happy or sad," said a journalist from the ISNA students news agency who declined to be identified.

He said a colleague had called him from inside the plane before take off. "He said that the pilot didn’t want to fly because there was a technical problem with the plane."   
State television showed footage of some of its employees killed in the crash accompanied by mournful music.


An Interior Ministry spokesman said some of those killed on the ground had been in their cars, whose burned-out shells littered the crash site.

The front of the plane was destroyed on impact. A propeller and ripped wing smoldered in front of the blackened building. Flames licked out of the windows of the apartments and thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

"Some people were throwing themselves out of windows to escape the flames. I saw two die like that," a policeman said.

Passerby Hassan Hedayati, his face covered in dust and hands caked with dried blood, was among the first on the scene.

"I pulled 30 bodies out of the plane. They were all charred," he said.

The apartment block, which was still standing, is in the Shahrak-e Towhid neighborhood, a residential area reserved for military families. It lies on the flightpath to the airport.

Emergency services used helicopters, ambulances and buses to evacuate the dead and wounded. Cranes were brought in to clear the wrecked fuselage.

Iran has a poor airline safety record following a string of air disasters in the past 30 years although most have involved Russian-made aircraft.

U.S. sanctions have prevented Iran from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from former Soviet Union countries.

In Iran’s last major military air disaster, an Iranian Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in the southeast of the country on February 19, 2003, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew aboard.