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Last Updated:  Sunday, 23 February, 2003, 22:04 GMT
Iran crash black boxes sought
Searchers haul a body bag down the slope
Hundreds of searchers have been deployed
Iranian search teams are struggling with bad weather to search the site of the country's worst air crash for the aircraft's "black boxes".

The country's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has sent his condolences to the families of the 275 soldiers and crew now known to have died when the Russian-built Ilyushin-76 plane came down near Kerman in the south-east.

Snow storms and freezing gales have hampered the work of the searchers who include members of the elite Revolutionary Guards whose comrades were killed.

IRAN AIR CRASHES
40 people die when a new Ukrainian plane crashes into a mountain in Iran in December 2002
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

The bad weather has been blamed for Wednesday's accident but aviation officials said they were waiting for the Ilyushin's flight recorders to be found.

Searchers have found 210 bodies but have so far only managed to bring 120 of them down from the crash site about 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) above ground and close to a mountain summit.

The area has been ringed off by the Guards, who are reportedly preventing journalists and victims' families from reaching the scene.

Body parts

An official said hundreds of people were involved in the salvage operation and that bulldozers had been used to dig a path to the inaccessible area.

A victim's relative weeps
There have been no signs of survivors
State radio said search helicopters had been initially held back by strong winds and thick fog, while snow on the ground was reported to be knee-deep.

The plane came down about 35 kilometres (22 miles) south-east of Kerman, while on an internal flight from Zahedan to Kerman.

Rescue workers reported finding fist-sized body parts strewn among the charred wreckage.

"It was one of the worst scenes I have witnessed. The bodies are just destroyed," said Mohammad, a Red Cross worker.

String of accidents

According to a local official in Zahedan, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, the Guards had been in the city to prepare for a visit by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The force, which was formed soon after the overthrow of the Shah and the creation of the Islamic republic more than 20 years ago, is seen as a staunch defender of Iran's Islamic regime.

Senior officials were reported to be among the dead.

There has been a series of disasters in Iran involving mainly Russian-built planes.

Up to half of Iran's transport aircraft are believed to be of Russian design, and correspondents say they have a poor safety record.

US sanctions have left Iran increasingly dependent on an ageing fleet, acquired from the former Soviet Union.

Three of them have crashed in the past two years, killing an estimated 200 people.



LINKS TO MORE MIDDLE EAST STORIES


 

SEE ALSO:
Iran plagued by poor aircraft safety
20 Feb 03 |  Middle East
Iran plane crash victims found
24 Dec 02 |  Middle East
Iran plane crash kills 117
12 Feb 02 |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
28 Dec 02 |  Country profiles


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