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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 10:36 GMT
Ukraine mourns Iran air crash victims
Rescue worker looks at wreckage
Wreckage is spread over a wide area
Ukraine is observing a day of national mourning for more than 40 people who died when a new Ukrainian plane crashed into a mountain in Iran on Monday.

Black-ribboned state flags flew at half-mast across the country.

Most of those who died were Ukrainian or Russian aeronautical engineers, including many senior officials from the plant where the plane was designed and built.

They were on their way to Isfahan for the official inauguration of the Iranian version of the plane, which is being built under licence.

Iranian officials at first said they believed pilot error was to blame for Monday's crash, but later said it was too early to determine what caused the accident.

Investigators in Iran say they have recovered the black box of the Antonov An-140 twin-engine turboprop.

Rescue teams have recovered the bodies of at least 44 people, including many aviation experts.

The plane crashed into a mountainside on Monday evening as it was preparing to land in Isfahan, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of the capital Tehran.

"It was an excellent plane and those on board were the best aviation experts that Russia and Ukraine have," said Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Lost contact

The plane had taken off from Kharkiv, Ukraine, and made a brief stop at Trabzon in Turkey before flying on to Iran.

However, as it was nearing the airstrip at Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industries, near Isfahan, witnesses saw the plane hit a mountain, an Iranian official told Reuters news agency.

IRAN AIR CRASHES
22 fatal accidents known with a combined total of 672 deaths
Russian-made Tu-154 airliner crashes into mountains in March 2002, killing 117 people
80 die when a military plane crashes in north-east Iran in March 1997
Tu-154 crashes into a military plane near Tehran in February 1993, killing 132

Air traffic controllers said the plane lost contact minutes before it was due to land.

The Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, and Iranian Transport Minister Ahmad Khorram offered condolences to families of the victims.

The An-140 is a modern twin-turboprop commuter plane which made its maiden flight in 1999 and has rarely been involved in accidents.

Iran is assembling An-140s - renamed the Iran-140 locally - under licence from Ukraine.

"It was the same model plane that we are developing with Ukraine, but I don't think the crash will affect this project," Mr Khorram told Reuters news agency.

See also:

23 Dec 02 | In Depth
13 Jan 03 | Middle East
15 Dec 02 | Country profiles
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