TEHRAN, Iran – A Russian-made jetliner carrying 168 people nose-dived into a field after taking off from the Iranian capital on Wednesday in a fiery crash that shredded the aircraft and killed everyone aboard – Iran’s worst air disaster in six years. Witnesses say the plane’s tail was on fire before it went down.
It was the latest in a string of deadly crashes in recent years that have highlighted Iran’s difficulties in maintaining its aging fleet of planes.
Iranian airlines, including state-run ones, are chronically strapped for cash, and maintenance has suffered, experts say. U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from updating its 30-year-old American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes as well. The country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, many of them Soviet-era planes that are harder to get parts for since the Soviet Union’s fall.
The Caspian Airlines Tupolev jet’s impact plowed a deep, long trench into agricultural fields outside the village of Jannat Abad, and the aircraft was blasted to bits. Flaming wreckage, body parts and personal items were strewn over a 200-yard area.
Firefighters put out blazes from the crash, but smoke smoldered from the pit for hours after as emergency workers searched for data recorders and other clues to the cause.