TEHRAN, (Reuters) – An Iranian military aircraft crashed at a Tehran airport on Monday, killing at least 36 people, state-run television reported, the latest in a string of aviation disasters to hit the Islamic Republic.
The television quoted a statement from the Revolutionary Guards, which was using the Russian-designed Antonov-74, as saying that 30 Guards members and six crew were killed. “Two members of the Revolutionary Guards have also been injured and have been transferred to hospital,” it said.
The Revolutionary Guards is the ideological wing of the Islamic Republic’s military.
Television pictures showed plane parts scattered along the runway and a charred fuselage. A crane was lifting up part of the plane after flames had been doused. The tail painted in military colours was one of the few parts still recognisable.
Air safety experts say Iran has a poor record, with a string of crashes in the past few decades — many involving Russian-made aircraft. The last civilian plane disaster was in September and in January a military plane crashed, killing 11.
Details about whether the plane had left the runway before it crashed and the final death toll remained unclear. Police officials said 39 were killed.
State television said the plane crashed shortly after take off but a police officer, Eskandar Momeni, told ISNA news agency an engine failed due to “technical problems” when it was on the runway, causing it to veer, hit an obstacle and explode.
The news agency said the flight recorder, the so-called “black box”, had been retrieved and was being examined by the investigation team.
ISNA had earlier quoted Guards Commander-in-Chief Yahya Rahim Safavi as hinting at possible sabotage but other Iranian news agencies later carried him denying such remarks.
“I see the possibility of any kind of sabotage in this accident as weak, and if I have been quoted in that regard I deny it now,” Safavi said, IRNA and Fars News Agency reported.
The television said the plane was headed for Shiraz, a city south of Tehran, when it crashed at Mehrabad airport, which is used for civilian and military flights.
The Guards statement said the Guards members “were going to southern Iran on a mission” but gave no further details.
U.S. sanctions against Iran have prevented it from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its ageing fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from the former Soviet Union.
A military plane crashed in January, killing at least 11 people and another military plane hit a tower block in Tehran in December last year, killing 94 people on board and at least 22 on the ground.
The last civilian aviation disaster was in September, when an Iranian airliner caught fire after landing in the northeastern city of Mashhad, killing 28 people.