TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Tens of thousands of mourners turned out Thursday for the funeral of the more than 100 people killed when an Iranian military plane crashed into a tall building. Many relatives say the plane”s delayed take-off shows it was not fit to fly.
The government and parliament announced separate investigations into the tragedy.
"If there are any culprits in this case, they will be identified," Tehran Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said Thursday of the judicial investigation. "We will make our findings public."
The C-130 plane, a four-engine turboprop, took off Tuesday for southern Iran where its 84 passengers, mostly Iranian journalists, were going to attend military maneuvers. It suffered engine failure and was returning to make an emergency landing at Tehran”s Mehrabad airport when it lost altitude. It struck a 10-story building in the Azari residential district, setting it on fire, and crashed to the ground.
All 94 crew and passengers were killed. Another 21 people in the apartment building were killed and 90 were injured, according to state media. But the Tehran coroner”s office said 108 people were killed. There has been no explanation for the varying numbers.
Relatives of the victims have complained that officials knew that the plane was not in good condition. The plane took off after a delay of at least five hours.
Mohammad Karbalai-Ahmad, a photographer for the Hamshahri newspaper, called his wife and told her that the flight had been delayed "apparently because of a technical problem and the pilot refuses to take off," the paper quoted his wife as saying. But the Army, whose air wing operated the plane, has denied such problem.
"The plane had no technical problem," a general was quoted as saying by state television, which gave only his surname Nami. "If it had, we would have not allowed the pilot to take off."
Iranian flights often face delays because of technical or logistical problems. As Iran is under U.S. sanctions imposed since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the country cannot buy spare parts for American-made aircraft, such as the C-130 which is made by Lockheed.
Many journalists have signed a petition calling for an investigation. "As representatives of public opinion, we won”t give up until those responsible for the crash are identified," they said in a signed statement.
At Thursday”s funeral in Tehran”s main cemetary, Behesht Zahra, the speaker of parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, told tens of thousands of mourners that the legislature wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.
"We will take legal action if it is proved there was negligence," Haddad Adel said.
Dozens of coffins, each draped in the Iranian flag and bearing a wreath and photograph of the victim, were carried into the cemetery on pickup trucks. Thousands of people walked behind the trucks on a smogy day. Among the mourners were First Vice-President Parviz Dawoudi and Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad-Hossein Saffar Harandi.
Lawmaker Kazem Jalali told The Associated Press that Iran”s defense minister would be questioned.
"I will question the defense minister. There is no justification to fly journalists in a C-130. The flight took place after a delay of several hours because of technical problem. We can”t ignore this," Jalali said.
Iran has suffered a series of plane crashes in recent years. In April, an Iranian military Boeing 707 with 157 people aboard skidded off a runway at Tehran airport and caught fire, killing three people.
In 2003, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people. In 2002, a Ukrainian-built aircraft carrying aerospace scientists crashed in central Iran, killing all 44 people aboard and a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 struck snow-covered mountains in western Iran, killing all 119 people on board.