Monday, January 09, 2006

Iran military top brass killed in plane crash

Several top brass in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards were among 11 people killed in a military plane crash in the northwest of the country on Monday, the second such deadly incident in barely a month.

The plane came down near Orumiyeh in a mountainous region of northwestern Iran after the pilot lost control following landing gear problems, and all 11 people aboard were killed, officials said.

"The plane was carrying eight Revolutionary Guards commanders and three members of the crew. Rescue workers are on the scene but some of the bodies have not yet been identified," said Jamshid Mohammadzadeh, deputy governor of West Azerbaijan province.

Among the victims were Ahmad Kazemi, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards ground forces, and seven top commanders, including an intelligence chief.

The crash came barely a month after a decrepit Iranian military transport plane plunged into the foot of a high-rise housing block in Tehran after suffering engine failure.

A total of 108 people were killed in the December 6 incident, which raised concerns across the country about the state of the planes used by the military.

Monday's crash occurred at around 9:30 am (0600 GMT) near the village of Aidinloo and was due to a problem with the landing gear, the province's governor Rahim Ghorbani was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

"The wheels would not open and the pilot wanted to land the plane on earthy ground, but he lost control, the plane crashed and was smashed to pieces," Ghorbani said.

Revolutionary Guards spokesman Masoud Jazayeri said on state television "the bad weather conditions as well as technical problems were responsible for the crash, which happened near the Orumiyeh airport".

The area around Orumiyeh, near the border with Turkey, is mountainous and weather conditions there are notoriously bad during the winter months.

"Before the crash the pilot had informed the Orumiyeh control tower of the technical problems and that two of the engines had broken down," MP Reza Talai-Nik, head of the parliamentary defence committee, was quoting as saying by the Mehr news agency.

The Revolutionary Guards Corps was set up in the wake of the 1979 revolution to defend the Islamic republic from "internal and external threats". It is now one of Iran's most powerful institutions and counts an estimated 350,000 men.

Iranian media said the Hercules plane involved in December's crash - bought from the United States before the Islamic revolution and starved of spare parts - had been ordered to fly despite warnings from its pilot.

Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar had faced possible impeachment over the crash but the motion was subsequently taken off the parliamentary agenda.

Since the revolution, clerical-ruled Iran has been subject to tough US sanctions, hindering the purchase of critical spare parts for all US-made planes in its air force, civilian flag carrier Iran Air and domestic airlines.


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