VIPs die in plane crash

2001-05-17 21:33

Tehran - A plane carrying Iran's transport minister crashed in northern Iran and all aboard were killed, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

The plane was carrying 29 passengers and crew, including Transport Minister Rahman Dadman and six members of parliament.

An Interior Ministry official told The Associated Press the plane was located in a mountainous area between Gorgan and Shahroud, about 145km east of Sari.

Dadman and his delegation were on their way to Gorgan, 130km east of Sari, to inaugurate the city's airport, the local governor said on state television.

Bad weather

Provincial officials "were waiting at the Gorgan airport to greet them on their arrival when we lost contact with the plane," Governor Ali Asghar Ahmadi said.

He said the airport control tower at Sari, 250km northeast of Tehran, lost contact with the pilot after a final communication at 7:38am local time.

"The pilot said that because of bad weather, they were heading back to Tehran," Ahmadi said. It was raining heavily at the time.

Authorities searched for the plane using helicopters, aircraft and boats, as Sari and Gorgan lie near the Caspian Sea.

Dadman was appointed to the Cabinet in January.

Ageing fleet due to sanctions

The plane, a Russian-built YAK-40, was operated by Faraz Qeshm Airlines, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The plane disappeared in a mountainous area near the northern town of Sari on an early morning flight to the town of Gorgan, close to the border with Turkmenistan.

Villagers in northeastern Iran said they had spotted a plane flying at a low altitude near the northeastern town of Shahroud on the other side of a mountain range from Sari.

State television had said earlier that the pilot, co-pilot and three of the crew were Armenian nationals.

A father of four, Dadman was appointed transport minister in a cabinet re-shuffle in January this year after serving as managing director of the railways.

Iran, suffering from US sanctions, operates an ageing fleet of aircraft mostly dating from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Many planes are leased from former Soviet Union countries to make up for the shortage. - Sapa-AP and Reuters