TEHRAN, Iran – A regional passenger plane assembled in Iran crashed Sunday while taking off from the capital, killing 39 and injuring another nine onboard, according to a senior transportation official and state media.
The IrAn-140 operated by domestic carrier Sepahan Air crashed in a residential area near Tehran’s Mehrabad airport. State TV said the plane’s tail struck the cables of an electricity tower before it hit the ground and burst into flames. The official IRNA news agency said the plane suffered an engine failure before it went down.
Deputy Minister of Transportation Ahmad Majidi provided the casualty figures in an appearance on state TV. The channel earlier had reported that all 48 people onboard had died.
The crash happened shortly after the plane took off at 9:20 a.m. local time (0450 GMT), bound for the town of Tabas in eastern Iran.
Eyewitness Hassan Molla said he heard a roaring sound as the plane came in low overhead, one wing tilting.
“There was no smoke or anything. It was absolutely sound and in good condition” before the crash and what appeared to be multiple explosions, he said.
Members of the Revolutionary Guard worked to secure the crash site and security and rescue personnel combed the wreckage as onlookers gathered shortly after the plane went down. The plane’s mangled but largely intact tail section was torn from the fuselage and came to rest on a nearby road.
State TV said the bodies of some of the victims were so badly burned that they could not be identified. They will be handed over to relatives after DNA tests are carried out to determine their identities, it said.
The IrAn-140 is a twin-engine turboprop plane based on Ukrainian technology that is assembled under license in Iran. It is a version of the Antonov An-140 regional plane and can carry up to 52 passengers.
A similar plane crashed during a training flight in the city of Isfahan in February 2009, killing five onboard, according to a report by state-run Press TV at the time.
Lawmaker Mehrdad Lahouti suggested Sunday that the earlier accident should have been a wake-up call.
“Lawmakers visited the production site of the plane and expressed concern about its (safety),” IRNA quoted him as saying. “This company should have not been allowed to operate the plane to avoid such a bitter incident.”
An official for Sepahan Air told The Associated Press from the central city of Isfahan that the carrier is affiliated with the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, also known as HESA. The airline was set up in 2010 and has not had any previous crashes, said the official, who refused to provide his name.
HESA has ties to Iran’s Ministry of Defence and is the company that assembles the IrAn-140.
Mehrabad, located in western Tehran, is the busier of two main airports serving the capital, and primarily handles domestic flights. Most international flights use the newer Imam Khomeini International Airport.
Iran has suffered a series of airplane crashes, blamed on its aging aircraft and poor maintenance. Many of the Boeing aircraft in state-run Iran Air’s fleet were bought before the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, which disrupted ties with the U.S. and Europe.
Iranian airlines, including those run by the state, are chronically strapped for cash, and maintenance has suffered, experts say. U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from updating its American aircraft and make it difficult to get European spare parts or planes. 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.
In March of this year, a small plane belonging to the State Aviation Organization crashed while on a test flight near the tourist resort of Kish Island, killing all four crew members.
The last major airliner 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 northwest Iran shortly after taking off from the capital, 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 aboard.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed reporting from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.