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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 15:22 GMT
Search resumes for Iran crash victims
Relatives of crash victims mourn their families
All those on board are believed to have perished
Rescuers have resumed the search for bodies of those killed in a plane crash in the snow-covered mountains of western Iran.

Helicopters are now being brought to the area because of the difficulty of reaching the crash site.

Despite the difficult terrain, rescue teams including mountaineering experts, managed to reach the crash scene on Tuesday and Red Crescent officials set up tents nearby.


I saw dozens of bodies scattered deep in the valley. I also saw pieces of the plane

Iranian official at crash site
The operation was halted as night fell and bad weather closed in.

All 117 people on board the plane - 105 passengers and 12 crew - are believed to have died when it crashed while flying from Tehran to the city of Khorramabad on Tuesday morning.

Four government officials and four foreigners were among those who perished on the Tupolev 154.

The rescue teams have been hampered in their efforts to reach the crash site near Khorramabad, about 375 kilometres (230 miles) south-west of the capital, because of heavy snow, a statement from the Civil Aviation Organization said.

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

Rescue worker covering himself from rain
Rescue workers had trouble reaching the crash site

Local witnesses said the plane crashed in flames into the Sefid-Kouh, or White Mountain, with a big explosion.

"I heard a huge, really horrifying sound of an explosion. Moments later I saw that the clouds and fog over the mountains suddenly became red, everything turned from white to red," said Ardeshir Ghiyasvand, a resident of Key-Mirzavand, the closest village to the crash site.

"It remained like that for a few seconds and then circles of fire dropped down the peaks," he added.

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

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 north-east 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

One official who reached a point overlooking the site, Hamid Fouladvand, described the scene.

"I saw dozens of bodies scattered deep in the valley. I also saw pieces of the plane. Wolves and bears were in the area and if the bodies aren't collected soon, they will be eaten," he said.

As news of the crash came through 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.

Sanctions

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

map

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.

The BBC Tehran correspondent says the weather in the region was not too bad at the time of the accident, which he says will raise questions about why the crash happened.

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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
17 May 01 | Middle East
Iran minister's plane crashes
08 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Iran
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