TEHRAN – Sixty-six people are feared to have been killed in a passenger plane crash in the Zagros mountains in Iran.
The Aseman Airlines plane, en route from Tehran to the south-western city of Yasuj, came down near the city of Semirom in Isfahan province, news channel Irinn reported.
The plane, brought back into service only months ago after being grounded for seven years, crashed on Sunday in a foggy, mountainous region of southern Iran.
The Red Crescent deployed search and rescue teams to the site. The airline has retracted a statement saying definitively that all aboard were dead.
Sixty passengers, two security guards, two flight attendants and the pilot and co-pilot were on board.
The airline initially said everyone had been killed, but said later: “Given the special circumstances of the region, we still have no access to the spot of the crash and therefore we cannot accurately and definitely confirm the death of all passengers of this plane.”
Bad weather, including fog and heavy snow, has hampered rescue efforts. Emergency teams have had to travel to the crash site by land rather than using a helicopter.
Passengers’ relatives have gathered at a mosque near Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, according to Reuters news agency.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani expressed sympathy for all involved, saying, in a statement, that the incident brought “great grief and sorrow”.
Aseman Airlines, owned by Iran’s civil service pension foundation, is a semi-private air carrier headquartered in Tehran that specialises in flights to remote airfields across the country. It also operates internationally. It is Iran’s third-largest airline by fleet size, behind state carrier Iran Air and Mahan Air. However, it is banned from flying in the European Union over safety concerns.
The crashed plane, a French-Italian-made ATR 72-500, was 25 years old, Iran’s civil aviation organisation said.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has also expressed “deep sympathy” for relatives of those on board, saying the accident “saddened the hearts”.
A timeline of Iran’s plane crashes
Iran has suffered a series of major aviation disasters in recent decades. The last major crash in Iran happened in January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 broke to pieces on impact while trying an emergency landing in a snowstorm in northwestern Iran, killing at least 77 people.
In July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner crashed in northwestern Iran shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 168 on board.
A Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran in February 2003, killing 302 people.
In February 1993, an Iranian airliner with 132 people aboard collided with an air force jet after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing everyone on the two aircraft.
In July 1988, the USS Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz mistook an Iran Air flight heading to Dubai for an attacking fighter jet, shooting down the plane and killing all 290 people aboard.