A search has begun for the black boxes from a passenger plane that crashed in northern Iran on Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board, the country’s ISNA news agency reported.
The Russian-made Tupolev airliner was en route from Tehran to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, when it crashed 16 minutes after takeoff, on a farm in the province of Qazvin, some 200 km (124 miles) from the Iranian capital.
“Army units have begun a search for the black boxes from the crashed plane” the vice-governor of the region told ISNA.
Iranian state television channels have quoted a spokesman for the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization as saying that 153 passengers and 15 crewmembers were on board the Tu-154, owned by Caspian Airlines.
Caspian Airlines said, however, that there were 154 passengers, including two children, and 16 crew members onboard.
According to the Armenian foreign ministry, some 40 passengers on the ill-fated plane were ethnic Armenians, but only five of them had Armenian citizenship. Two Georgian nationals were also onboard – the wife of the head of Georgia’s mission to Iran and a financial official at the Georgian embassy in Armenia.
Other passengers on the list were Iranians, including eight athletes with Iran’s national youth judo team and two coaches.
The plane took off half-an-hour late, at 12:02 local time (07:32 GMT), due to poor weather conditions, the deputy chief of Armenia’s civil aviation organization said.
“The Tu-154 took off from Tehran to Yerevan at 12:02 and should have entered Armenian airspace at 12:52 [08:22 GMT]. However, at 12:48 [08:18], Iranian flight operators reported to Armenian ground services that the plane had gone off the radar screens,” Arsen Pogosyan said.
TV pictures of the crash site showed scorched earth, scattered fragments of plane and a few charred pieces of clothing and personal belongings. Emergency services said the plane was completely destroyed. The plane, which fell from a height of about 8,000 km, has created a six-meter deep crater.
Iranian Roads and Transportation Minister Hamed Behbahani said a working group had been established to investigate the cause of the crash. Representatives of the CIS aviation incident investigation agency, the Interstate Aviation Committee, will also take part in the investigation.
The crash is believed to have been caused by a fire in one of the engines, Armenian state television reported, without naming sources. Meanwhile, Iran’s English-language Press TV said that the aircraft had attempted an emergency landing due to a technical malfunction, but the plane burst into flames and crashed.
All the equipment installed on the plane, produced some 15 years ago, was in line with the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Pogosyan said.
Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan has cut short his working visit to the northern Armenian city of Spitak and returned to Yerevan.
A number of foreign heads of state, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, have offered their condolences.
“I’m deeply shock by the report that Armenian nationals were killed when a plane crashed en route from Yerevan to Tehran. I ask you to accept my deepest condolences in connection with this tragedy,” the Russian president said in a letter to Sargsyan.
Thursday has been declared a nationwide day of mourning in Armenia.
CRASH VIDEO HERE