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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caspian Airlines Flight 7908 Tupolev 154 Deadly Crash

Plane Crash Leaves 168 Dead in Iran

A passenger Tupolev 154 bound for Armenia from Iran crashed Wednesday morning 75 miles northwest of Tehran, and all 168 people aboard are believed to be dead, Iranian state media reported.

The Russian-made Tupolev 154 crashed near the city of Qazvin at about 11:30 a.m. local time after leaving Tehran on a flight to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, said Qazvin police chief Hussein Behzadpour, in comments to Iran’s English language Press TV.

The Tupolev 154, operated by Tehran-based Caspian Airlines, was carrying 153 passengers and 15 crew members, state television reported. Television images from the scene showed smoking ruins, with body parts and bits of the plane’s shattered fuselage scattered on the field where the plane crashed. Emergency workers could be seen picking through the wreckage. The crash gouged a trench more than 10 feet deep in the field, near the village of Jannatabad, state news agencies said.

The spokesman for Iran’s Aviation Organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, told Press TV that the Tupolev 154, Flight 7908, crashed 16 minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. The cause of the accident is not yet known, and investigators were combing the wreckage Wednesday for the “black box” flight recorders, which contain recordings of the flight crew’s conversations as well as data such as its speed, altitude and heading.

Sirous Saberi, deputy governor of Qazvin province, told Iran’s Mehr news agency that Caspian Airlines Flight 7908 had experienced a technical problem shortly after takeoff and was attempting to return to the airport in Tehran. One unidentified witness told the semi-official ISNA news agency that the plane’s tail was on fire before it landed. Another witness quoted by state television said the plane, which was loaded with fuel, had exploded on impact.

Six Armenian citizens and two Georgian citizens were on Caspian Airlines Flight 7908, and the rest were likely Iranians, The Associated Press reported, citing the deputy chairman of Armenia’s civil aviation authority in Yerevan. Eight members of Iran’s national youth judo team, along with two coaches and a delegation chief, were on Caspian Airlines Flight 7908, on their way to train with the Armenian judo team and attend a competition in Hungary in August, the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency said.

The head of the disaster management center in Iran’s Health Ministry told state news agencies that all aboard were confirmed dead.

Wednesday’s crash was the first fatal accident for Caspian Airlines, which was founded in 1992 and operated a fleet of six Tupolev 154 airliners, all of which date from the mid-1980s to early 1990s. The aircraft that crashed Wednesday was built in 1986 and was leased to Caspian Airlines in 1998. It is believed to be owned by VARZ-400, a Russian aircraft maintenance and overhaul company, according to Ascend, a London-based aviation industry consulting company.

Iran has a checkered history when it comes to air safety, and many of its deadliest disasters have involved its aging fleet of Soviet-designed planes. In 2006, a Tupolev 154 operated by Iran Airtour burst into flames upon landing in Tehran, killing 29 of the 148 people on board. Airtour, which is affiliated with Iran’s national carrier, suffered another fatal accident in 2002, when another Tupolev-built jet plowed into a mountainside, killing all 119 on board.

In 2005, a Boeing C-130 operated by the Iranian military rammed into a housing complex shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, killing 115 people, including 21 on the ground.

With no domestic aviation industry, Iran is dependent on foreign manufacturers for its planes. But trade sanctions in place for the past three decades have hampered access to spare parts as well as purchases of more modern aircraft, particularly from American manufacturers like Boeing. In 2005, the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations, warned that sanctions flouted international treaties and placed civilian lives in danger.

Caspian Airlines passed an operational safety audit in 2007 by the International Air Transport Association, which approved the airline’s overall safety standards and procedures, including those of its engineering and aircraft maintenance operations. The airline is due to seek renewal of its safety certification by the end of November.

Wednesday’s crash is the eighth fatal accident suffered by the Tupolev 154 in the past 10 years, including one, in 2004, that was the result of a terrorist attack on a Russian carrier. Since entering service in 1971, the Tupolev 154 has suffered 54 crashes, resulting in the deaths of 2,602 passengers and 258 crew members, according to Ascend.

A passenger list of those who died in the plane crash in Iran of Caspian Airlines flight 7908 has not yet been released

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