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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 16:21 GMT
Iran plane crash kills 117
Relative in Tehran is taken to hospital on hearing the news of the crash
A relative receives treatment on hearing the news
All 117 people on board an Iranian passenger plane died when it crashed into snow-covered mountains in the west of the country, government officials have confirmed.

The plane was totally destroyed and scattered in small pieces across the mountain

Crash witness
Four government officials were among those who perished on the Tupolev 154, which disappeared from radar screens while flying from Tehran to Khorramabad on Tuesday morning, an official told the Reuters news agency.

The aircraft was operated by Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of the state carrier Iran Air.

Local witnesses said the plane crashed in flames into the Sefid-Kouh, or White Mountain, with a big explosion, as it was landing in the city about 375 kilometres (230 miles) south-west of the capital.

"The plane was totally destroyed and scattered in small pieces across the mountain," one villager said.

Relatives gather

Dozens of relatives of the passengers gathered at Tehran Mehrabad Airport.

"Where are you? What happened to you," shouted Nasrin Shafiiyan, beating her face and chest, as she waited tearfully for information about the fate of her husband Houshang, who was on the plane.

Four of the victims are reported to be Spaniards, who the Spanish foreign ministry says had travelled to Iran on a sales mission for an electrical goods company.

Search mission

A local official in Cheghini, 35km (21 miles) from Khorramabad, told the French news agency AFP that the wheels and other pieces of the plane had been located near the village of Sarab-Doreh, west of Khorramabad.

Previous Iranian crashes
July 2001
143 die on a Tu-154 near Irkutsk, Russia
May 2001
30 die on a Russian-built Yak-40 in northern Iran
March 1997
80 die when a military plane crashes in northeast Iran
October 1994
66 die when an F-28 crashes near Natanz, south of Tehran
February 1993
132 die when a Tu-154 crashes into a military plane near Tehran
He said mountaineers would be needed to recover the bodies from the area.

The Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran said over 100 rescue workers were at the scene.

"But given that the mountain is covered in snow it will be very difficult to reach the aircraft quickly," the organisation said.

The cause of the crash is not known, but President Mohammad Khatami has ordered an immediate inquiry.

It is the latest in a series of incidents involving ageing Russian-built aircraft leased by companies in Iran.

Members of parliament have already called for the resignation or impeachment of the transport minister, whose predecessor died in another air crash in May last year.

Sanctions blamed

The BBC Tehran correspondent says the weather in the region is currently not too bad, which he says will raise questions about why the crash happened.

At the airport, Mrs Shafiiyan blamed the crash on "stupid incompetent officials" who collect second-hand planes from former Soviet Union.

"What is this garbage they buy or rent?", she asked.

Under US sanctions, Iran has had difficulty obtaining spare parts for its ageing fleet of Boeing aircraft purchased before the 1979 Islamic revolution and relies increasingly on planes leased from the former Soviet Union.

Iran has said the US stance on spare parts endangers the lives of innocent passengers.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"There are probably no survivors"
See also:

12 Feb 02 | Middle East
How safe is the Tu-154?
12 Feb 02 | World
Air disaster timeline
05 Jul 01 | Europe
Russia mourns plane crash victims
19 May 01 | Middle East
Lightning blamed for Iran plane crash
18 May 01 | Middle East
Iranian minister's crashed plane found
17 May 01 | Middle East
Iran minister's plane crashes
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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