Iran strives to search for jet crash bodies

AFP
Iranian rescue teams struggled to recover bodies yesterday from the wreckage of a plane that crashed in hazardous terrain near a mountain peak on Sunday with 66 people on board.
AFP

Iranian rescue teams struggled to recover bodies yesterday from the wreckage of a plane that crashed in hazardous terrain near a mountain peak on Sunday with 66 people on board.

“Deep and dangerous crevices in the area of the crash have made it impossible for helicopters to land,” Ghafoor Rastinrooz, director of the regional medical center, told official news agency IRNA.

“The bodies must be transferred by hand to the foot of the mountain which will be time-consuming,” he said.

Aseman Airlines flight EP3704 disappeared from radar as it flew over the Zagros mountain range on Sunday morning, around 45 minutes after taking off from Tehran on a domestic flight.

After two days of heavy snow and fog, the weather finally cleared yesterday morning, allowing a helicopter crew to spot a piece of the wreckage with the company’s logo.

A pilot told state broadcaster IRIB he had seen “scattered bodies around the plane” and that it was located on one of the Dena mountains at a height of around 4,000 meters.

Footage from the helicopter showed a glimpse of the wreckage in deep snow on a sheer mountain face, while officials warned that bad weather was due to return in a few hours.

Around 100 mountaineers have been making their way up the mountain since Monday and teams were being sent to near the crash site. “Helicopters are dropping off the rescue and relief teams in the nearest spot possible, as accessing the site of the crash is very difficult,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of the Civil Aviation Organization, told state TV.

“Only highly professional and trained mountaineers can go there, get close to the plane and bring back the bodies,” he said.

The ATR-72 twin-engine plane, in service since 1993, flew on Sunday from the capital’s Mehrabad airport toward the city of Yasuj, some 500 kilometers to the south.

The incident has reawakened concerns over aviation safety in Iran, which has been exacerbated by international sanctions over the years. 

Aseman Airlines was blacklisted by the European Commission in December 2016.

It was one of only three airlines barred over safety concerns — the other 190 being blacklisted due to broader concerns over oversight in their respective countries.

Iran has complained that sanctions imposed by the United States have jeopardized the safety of its airlines and made it difficult to maintain and modernize aging fleets.

Aseman was forced to ground many of its planes at the height of the sanctions due to difficulties in obtaining spares. 

In a working paper presented to the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization in 2013, Iran said US sanctions were blocking “the acquisition of parts, services and support essential to aviation safety.”

Iran has suffered multiple aviation disasters, most recently in 2014 when 39 people were killed as a Sepahan Airlines plane crashed just after takeoff from Tehran, narrowly avoiding many more deaths when it plummeted near a busy market.

But figures from the Flight Safety Foundation, a US-based agency, suggest Iran is nonetheless above average in implementing international safety standards.

Lifting sanctions on aviation purchases was a key clause in the nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers in 2015.

Following the deal, Aseman Airlines finalized an agreement to buy 30 Boeing 737 MAX jets for US$3 billion last June, with an option to buy 30 more.

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