Iranian Military Plane Crashes, 302 People Dead

February 22, 2003
KERMAN -- An Iranian military aircraft, operated by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), crashed near this central city Wednesday evening, killing all 302 people aboard. The Ilyushin airliner was on a domestic flight to Kerman from the southeastern Zahedan in Sistan Baluchestan Province near Pakistan

border. It went down as it prepared to land at the Kerman Airport.

The crash occurred at 18:24 (1454 GMT) some 35 km to the southeast of Kerman. Search teams found early Thursday part of the debris, including the plane's wing near a tunnel which cuts through local mountains, IRNA reported.

"All those aboard were the personnel of Division 41 of Sarallah of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps," Kerman Governor, Mohammad-Ali Karimi, told IRNA here, adding 18 of those aboard were the crew.

He said the pilot had lost contact with air traffic controllers at the Kerman Airport shortly before preparing to land in a bad weather.

Head of the control tower at the Kerman Airport said strong winds blew at the time of descent, which coincided with the landing of a Tupolev airplane.

"In his last radio contact, the pilot said 'I am trying to approach the airport; maybe the weather condition will get better'. At that moment, the contact was lost," the Kerman governor said.

He said police and relief forces in Kerman had been put on alert and rescue and search teams had been dispatched to the crash site.

The head of Kerman's Red Crescent Society, Ahmad Dabbagh-Zadeh, said 60 relief workers of his office had set out for snow-covered Sirach slopes in search of the bodies.

"Although the Sirach mountains are hard to reach and covered with snow, the relief workers have decided to find the bodies in the darkness of the night," he said, adding army helicopters in Kerman are also ready to start search operations as soon as there is daylight.

The Iranian cabinet, in a statement, offered condolences to the nation and the bereaved families over the "tragic event in which a group of IRGC brothers" were killed.

The crash came as Iran prepared to celebrate the eve of Qadir, which marks Prophet Mohammad's appointment of first imam of Shiite Muslims, Imam Ali (AS), as his spiritual heir.

Iran's aviation fleet mostly uses American-made Boeings, purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. U.S. unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, however, have forced the country to turn to Russian-made aircraft.

On February 12, 2002, a Tupolev-154 crashed on jagged mountains when it was on a flight to Khorramabad from Tehran, killing all 119 on board.

Twelve days later, an Ilyushin-76, on a flight to the central city of Isfahan from the northeastern city of Mashhad with 230 people on board, made an emergency landing shortly after take-off when a fire broke out in the plane.

No one was injured in the incident, but six passengers taken by panic were rushed to hospital and the fire was extinguished on time by the airport's fire fighters.

In May, 2002, a Russian-built Yak-40 plane on its way to northern Iran from Tehran crashed with 30 people on board, including the then roads and transport minister, Rahman Dadman. No one survived the disaster.

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali have expressed shock and grief over the crash of an Iranian plane on Wednesday.

In their separate messages to Iranian President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, the Pakistani leaders said they were shocked to learn about "great human losses" in the Iranian plane crash.

The Pakistan president and prime minister also expressed sympathy with the families of those killed in the air crash.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad as-Sabah and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah as-Salim as-Sabah, the Azeri President Heydar Aliyev and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria also in separate messages expressed their condolences over the catastrophic crash of the plane.