43 Killed In Iranian Plane Crash

Wreckage of an Iranian airliner which crashed with 40 passengers and six crew shortly before landing at Sharjah airport, in the United Arab Emirates, Tuesday Feb. 10, 2004, killing at least 35 people, civil aviation officials said. The Kish Airline Fokker 50 crashed in the open about three kms (two miles) from the airport, said Ghanem al-Hajiry, director general of civil aviation and the Sharjah Airport Authority. AP

An Iranian plane carrying mostly foreign workers renewing their visas crashed Tuesday as it approached Sharjah airport in the United Arab Emirates, killing 43 people aboard, officials said. Three survivors were being treated at a hospital.

The Kish Air Fokker-50, flying to Sharjah from the Iranian island of Kish in the Gulf, crashed at 11:40 a.m. in an open area about two miles from the airport, said Ghanem al-Hajiry, director general of civil aviation and the Sharjah Airport Authority. The cause of the crash was not known, he said.

No one on the ground was hurt, Al-Hajiry said. Witnesses said the plane crashed on a road near an upper-class residential neighborhood.

Builders at a nearby construction site said they saw the plane wobbling as it neared the tarmac and heard strange noises coming from the engine.

Rescue workers in white robes searched for survivors in the burning wreckage. Helicopters landed near the scene with rescue workers and to remove victims. A row of bodies lay covered in red blankets.

The front of the plane appeared to be no longer intact, but there were no flames around the tail section.

Of the 46 people aboard, 43 were killed, said Col. Saleh Ali al-Mutawaa, general director of Sharjah Police. He identified them as 19 Iranians, 12 Indians, four Egyptians, two Filipinos, two Algerians, one Syrian, one Chinese, one Nigerian and one Bangladeshi.

Flights to nearby destinations such as Kish mainly carry foreigners — particularly Asian workers, including Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos, who make up the bulk of the Emirates' work force — to exit and return in order to remain within Emirati visa requirements. Foreigners whose visas are expiring need to exit and re-enter on a new visa, which takes two or three days to process.

Kish is a favorite destination for those renewing their travel documents because tickets are cheap and Iranian visas aren't needed. Cheap hotels cater to such travelers.

In Tehran, Kish Airline officials refused to comment.

Three crash victims were receiving treatment at al-Qasimi hospital in Sharjah, an emergency room attendant at the hospital confirmed to The Associated Press.

Two of them were in critical condition, he said. The attendant did not provide a condition on the third, who was reported as stable by the Emirates' official news agency, WAM. Al-Mutawaa said two of the victims at al-Qasimi hospital were Filipinos, and the third was an Iranian.

Two people who survived the crash died after being taken to hospitals, WAM reported.

Shocked relatives, some crying, watched television images of the crash at Sharjah airport, reports CBS News Radio.

Abdel Rasoul al-Majidy said his 65-year-old father-in-law was supposed to be arriving on the flight. "We don't know what's going on. All we know is that my father-in-law was arriving today and then we heard of this plane crash," he said.

His wife, Fawziyah, began screaming hysterically at airport officials: "Where's my father? Where's my father? Bring him to me."

Kish Airline had a fleet of four medium-range, Russian-built Tu-154M jets on domestic and international flights and four short-range Fokker-50 turboprops, according to the company's Web site.

Iran has a history of air accidents, often blamed on badly maintained planes. In June, an Iranian military C-130 transport plane crashed outside Tehran, killing all seven people aboard. In February, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 crashed in southeastern Iran, killing all 275 aboard.

In Belarus in September, a Tu-154 belonging to Kish Air on a Tehran-Minsk-Copenhagen flight went off course while making its approach at the Minsk-2 airport, striking trees. None of the 40 people aboard was hurt.

In 1995, an Iranian flight attendant hijacked a Kish Air Boeing 707 to Israel during a flight from Tehran. The plane was returned to Tehran with 174 passengers and crew.

Last month, a top Iranian aviation official asked the United States to lift sanctions on its airline industry as a humanitarian gesture so the country can buy spare parts for its planes.

Tehran blames many of its crashes on the sanctions, saying they have prevented the country from repairing and replacing an aging fleet that includes many Russian-made planes. Iran has complained of trouble buying European-made planes as well, because some parts and engines are built in the United States.
  • Francie Grace

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