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from NYtimes :

TEHRAN — A locally built Iranian passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff in Tehran on Sunday, killing 39 people and reviving questions about the safety of an aviation sector left hobbled by international sanctions.

President Hassan Rouhani offered his condolences to the victims’ families and quickly ordered an investigation. Similar planes operated by Iranian carriers will be grounded until the investigation is complete, he said.

The plane was based on a relatively obscure Ukrainian design that has been involved in previous Iranian air disasters.

The Sepahan Air regional airliner, bound for Tabas in eastern Iran, went down in a residential area shortly after takeoff at 9:20 a.m. from Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.

State television said the plane’s tail struck electric power lines before it hit the ground and burst into flames. The official IRNA news agency said an engine had failed. Whatever the ultimate cause, quick thinking by the pilot may have saved some lives.

“We should be thankful to God that the pilot did all he could to steer the plane away from residential buildings and fortunately did not crash into them,” said Jalal Maleki, a spokesman for Tehran’s Fire Department. “Otherwise, we would have been dealing with a much worse crisis.”

Plane crashes at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport; at least 38 reported dead

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An Iran-140 Sepahan Air passenger plane bound for Tabas in northeast Iran crashes near Tehran’s Mehrabad airport, killing at least 38 people. Sarah Toms reports.

Known as an IrAn-140 or Iran-140, the twin-engine turboprop is a version of the Antonov An-140 regional plane and is assembled under license in Iran. It can carry up to 52 passengers.

A Ukrainian-made An-140 crashed near Isfahan, in central Iran, in 2002, killing 46 people, mostly Ukrainian and Russian experts traveling to witness the maiden flight of the Iranian-built version of the plane.

A similar Iranian-made version crashed during a training flight in Isfahan in February 2009, killing five onboard, according to a report by state-run Press TV at the time.

Iranian airlines, including those run by the state, are chronically short of cash, rely on aging planes and have spotty maintenance records.

While some airlines operate Boeing and Airbus models, spare parts for Western-made planes are often hard to come by, largely because of sanctions aimed at Iran’s nuclear program.

Those difficulties have left Iranian airlines increasingly reliant on planes developed by the Soviet Union and its successor states, though parts for aging Soviet-era planes can also be tough to get.

An official for Sepahan Air said that the carrier was affiliated with the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company, also known as HESA. The airline was set up in 2010 and has not had any previous crashes, said the official, who refused to provide his name.


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