TEHRAN: Iran on Monday launched a probe after an Iran Air passenger jet crashed and broke into pieces in heavy snow and fog killing 77 people and injuring dozens of others, state media said.
The Boeing 727 airliner with the state-run Iran Air crashed near the northwestern city of Orumiyeh at around 7:45 pm (1615 GMT) on Sunday after it took off from Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, state television said on its website.
"Unfortunately, 77 of our citizens were killed" in the accident, the state television said on Monday, out of the 105 people traveling on what reportedly was an ageing Boeing airliner delivered to Iran in 1974.
Television footage of the crash showed the airliner broken into three pieces and buried in thick snow, with some corpses covered in blankets and laying near the plane’s debris.
An Iranian Red Crescent official told state television on Sunday that the "plane hit the ground and broke into pieces. Thankfully there was no fire."
"This flight had 105 persons on board, 94 passengers and 11 flight crew," ISNA news agency reported Monday quoting Ahmad Majidi, the head of the road and transport ministry’s crisis panel.
Majidi, in a separate report on state news agency IRNA, said one passenger who was missing since the crash was found on Monday.
"He was thrown out of the plane. He has been taken to the hospital in Orumiyeh," he said, adding that another passenger was still untraceable.
Mehr news agency, quoting an official from West Azerbaijan of which Orumiyeh is the capital, reported that the passengers of the ill-fated plane included a Turk and two Iraqis but the Turk and one Iraqi were yet to be identified.
Majidi said it appeared that bad weather led to the crash.
"Based on the evidence, the plane’s captain could not land at Orumiyeh airport due to bad weather conditions and he decided to return (to Tehran)," he said.
"But for unknown reasons the plane crashed around five miles (eight kilometers) from the airport."
Transport Minister Hamid Behbahani told Mehr news agency that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered a probe into the crash, adding that the "preliminary reason is lack of visibility and fog" for the accident.
Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi had also blamed the bad weather for the crash on Sunday.
There were however conflicting reports of the discovery of the two black boxes, with Behbahani saying the devices were found, while one of his ministry’s official saying they had not been retrieved, media reports said.
Meanwhile ISNA reported that the crashed aircraft had been in service since 1974.
"The plane was given to Iran in 1974 and at that time it was a second-hand" aircraft, ISNA said quoting what it identified as an unnamed informed source.
Iran’s civil and military fleet is made up of ancient aircraft in very poor condition because of their age and lack of maintenance.
The Islamic republic, which has been under years of international sanctions, has suffered a number of aviation disasters over the past decade, several involving small companies using Russian crew or crews from former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
In Iran’s worst air accident, a plane carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in February 2003, killing 302 people on board.
In July 2009, a Soviet-designed Tupolev caught fire in mid-air and plunged flaming into farmland northeast of Tehran, killing all 168 people on board.
And in December 2005, a total of 108 people were killed when a Lockheed transport plane crashed into a high-rise housing block outside Tehran.
In November 2006, a military plane crashed on takeoff at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, killing all 39 people on board, including 30 members of the Revolutionary Guards.