Fatal plane crash leaves one survivor

A decades-old Iranian Boeing 707 military cargo plane reportedly carrying meat from Kyrgyzstan crashed on Monday while trying to land west of Iran’s capital, killing 15 people on board and leaving a sole survivor, authorities said.

The crash of the jetliner marked just the latest aviation disaster for Iran, which hoped to replace its ageing fleet under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

But instead, US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the accord in May scuttled billions of dollars in planned sales by Airbus and Boeing Co. to the Islamic Republic, only increasing the danger for passengers in Iran planes.

Firefighters and security forces gather amid the debris of a Boeing 707 cargo plane that attempted to land at the wrong airport and crashed. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

The aircraft, which bore the paint scheme of the Iranian air force’s civilian Saha Airlines, was an making emergency landing around 8:30am on Monday at Fath Airport, an airfield controlled by Iran’s powerful paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The plane skidded off the runway, crashed through a perimeter fence and into a residential neighbourhood.

Iranian state television aired images of smoke-charred homes and the fuselage of the aircraft lying on the ground in the neighbourhood. Nearby was one of its landing gears, torn away. Small fires burned around it.

One crew member survived the crash, with the escape described as “miraculous”.

The plane was meant to land at the nearby Payam International Airport, about 40 kilometres west of Tehran, the Iranian capital.

Firefighters and security forces gather amid the debris of a Boeing 707 cargo plane that crashed near the Iranian capital Tehran killing all on-board except one. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Authorities did not immediately offer a reason for the crew’s decision to land instead at Fath Airport. That airport is some 10 kilometres southwest of Payam. Its runway is some 1,100-metres long, compared to Payam’s 3,600 metres.

In November, a commercial airline reportedly mistook Fath for Payam, but was able to abort its landing. Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency later quoted an anonymous aviation official saying Monday’s doomed flight likewise mistook Fath for Payam. Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of the country’s emergency medical services, said that of the 16 people on board the plane, only the flight engineer was known to have survived. IRNA reported all 15 bodies of the crew who died had been recovered by Monday afternoon.

The Boeing 707 cargo plane that crashed is part of an ageing fleet of planes that allegedly fly without necessary maintenance. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Iran’s air force said in a statement that the fate of the crew, including their possible “martyrdom,” is under investigation. It wasn’t immediately clear who owns the plane, though Gen. Shahin Taghikhani, an army spokesman, told state TV that the plane and its crew were Iranian.

Iranians often use the word “martyrdom” for those who die in war or national service.

The plane reportedly was carrying a cargo of meat from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, to Iran. Since 2016, Iran has been importing meat from Kyrgyzstan, usually via Saha. It imported 150 tons in 2016 and 350 tons in 2017.

Saha Airlines operated one of the world’s last commercial flights of the Boeing 707, which was first manufactured in 1958 and helped usher in the jet age. The four-engine, narrow-body aircraft were built until 1979.

The Boeing 707 cargo plane overshot the runway during its landing, Iran’s aviation organisation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Maintenance information was not immediately available. However, Iran has struggled to obtain parts for its ageing fleet of airlines, nearly all purchased during the time of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Saha Airlines’ Boeing 707s suffered a previous fatal crash in April 2005, when a flight coming from the Kish island crash-landed at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, killing three passengers.

Iran has suffered a series of major aviation disasters in recent decades. Its last major crash happened in February 2018, when an Aseman Airlines ATR-72 brought back into service only months earlier after being grounded for seven years crashed in a foggy, mountainous region of southern Iran, killing all 65 people aboard.

Relatives of victims mourn as they gather near the debris of a Boeing 707 cargo plane that crashed near the Iranian capital Tehran on January 14, 2019. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

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 shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 168 on board. A Russian-made Ilyushin 76 carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard crashed in 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. And 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.

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