Damaged Black Boxes Found after Iran Plane Crash

TEHRAN ~ Iran said on Thursday it has found the black boxes from an airliner that crashed in flames near Tehran, killing all 168 people on board in the worst air disaster in the sanctions-hit nation in years.

“The plane’s recording and flight systems have been found,” Ahmad Majidi, head of the transport ministry’s crisis unit, told the official IRNA news agency.

“Our experts are examining the black boxes to try to determine the cause of the crash,” he said, but added that the equipment had been seriously damaged.

The Caspian Airlines Tupolev-154 caught fire in mid-air en route to Armenia and plunged into farmland on Wednesday just 16 minutes after take-off, killing all 153 passengers and 15 crew members.

State television’s website quoted Ahmad Momeni, managing director of Iran’s airport authority, as saying that the last conversation between the pilot and the ground was “normal and did not indicate any technical glitch.”

Witnesses said the plane was ablaze before it smashed into the ground and exploded outside a village near the northwestern city of Qazvin.

Television images showed a vast smoking crater at the disaster site littered with debris of plane parts, shoes and clothes.

One relief worker said at the site that all he found were “pieces of flesh and bones.”

“There is not a single piece which can be identified. There is not a single finger of anybody left,” he said, standing next to a body bag filled with pieces of flesh.

The head of the Qazvin disaster management centre, Mohammad Ali Ahani, said the remains of the victims had been transferred to Tehran.

“The families of the victims can inquire about their lost ones at the Tehran coroner’s office, but it is impossible to identify the victims,” he told the Mehr news agency.

In Yerevan, the deputy head of the Armenian civil aviation organisation, Arsen Pogossian, said on Wednesday that the pilot had attempted an emergency landing after an engine caught fire.

He said 147 passengers were Iranian, of whom 31 were of Armenian origin, four were Armenians and two Georgians.

Iranian officials said 10 members of the junior national judo team were also among those killed in the crash.

In Sydney, officials said an Australian brother and sister, aged in their 20s, who possibly had dual nationality, were among the dead.

The Islamic republic is home to at least 100,000 Armenians and a string of historically important churches of the country’s Gregorian rite.

Witnesses spoke of seeing the plane on fire before it plunged to earth.

“I saw the plane when it was just… above the ground. Its wheels were out and there was fire blazing from the lower parts,” witness Ablolfazl Idaji told the Fars news agency.

“It seemed the pilot was trying to land and moments later the plane hit the ground and broke into pieces that were scattered far and wide.”

Many relatives vented their anger at Caspian Airlines, saying its planes could not be trusted.

“I hate these planes. With so much travel between Iran and Armenia, there have to be better planes,” said Alex, 24, an Iranian of Armenian origin who lost around dozen friends and relatives in the crash, including children.

The Tupolev Tu-154 is a Soviet-designed medium-range three-engine aircraft and was a best-seller for the Russian aircraft industry between 1972 and 1994.

The crash was the third major plane crash in the world in six weeks.

Two weeks ago a Yemenia Airbus crashed in the Indian Ocean off the Comoros, killing 152 people, while on June 1 an Air France Airbus plunged into the Atlantic coast off Brazil killing 228.

Iran, which has been under years of international sanctions hampering its ability to buy Boeing or Airbus planes, has suffered a number of aviation disasters over the past decade.

Iran’s civil and military fleet is made up of ancient aircraft in very poor condition due to their age and lack of maintenance.

In the most deadly previous crash, 117 people on board another Tupolev were killed when it crashed into snow-covered mountains in western Iran in 2002.

In December 2005, 108 people were killed when a transport plane crashed into a foot of a high-rise housing block outside Tehran and in November 2006, a military plane crashed on takeoff in Tehran, killing 39 people.

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