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Military plane crashes in Iran; 11 killed

The commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards died on Monday when a small military passenger jet crashed in northwestern Iran.

world Updated: Jan 10, 2006 02:45 IST

The commander of the ground forces of the elite Revolutionary Guards died on Monday when a small military passenger jet crashed in northwestern Iran while trying to make an emergency landing, official media reported.

Gen Ahmad Kazemi and 10 others on board the Falcon were killed in the crash at Oroumieh, 900 kilometres northwest of the capital, Tehran, state television reported.

In earlier reports, state television said that 11 passengers and two crew members were killed in the crash. However, it later dropped the death toll to 11 in total, as did other media reports. The discrepancy could not be immediately explained.

Revolutionary Guards spokesman Gen Masoud Jazayeri told state radio that Gen Kazemi and 10 other officers of the Guards—including crew members—were killed.

Jazayeri listed a catalogue of possible causes for the crash, including poor visibility in the snow, dual engine failure and jammed landing gear that prevented the wheels from being fully deployed.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed condolences for the death of Kazemi, a veteran of the 1980-88 war with Iraq who was appointed commander of the Guards' ground forces in August.

It was Iran's second military plane crash in two months. On both occasions, the planes were carrying passengers and attempting to make an emergency landing.

The commander of the Revolutionary Guards rejected the possibility of any terrorist sabotage in the latest crash. "The pilot of the plane ... told the control tower at Oroumieh airport that the plane's landing gear was jammed and asked for permission to return to Tehran," General Yahya Rahim Safavi was quoted as saying by the official Web site of IRIB, Iran's broadcasting body.

"After a few minutes and in his last communications, the pilot informed the tower about failure in both engines," Safavi said. "The plane crashed shortly afterward."

Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran's civil aviation organisation, said it was "too soon" to know the main cause, and said investigators would listen to recorded communications between the pilot and the control tower.

The Falcon, which is made by the French company Dassault, is the preferred aircraft of high-ranking military officers in Iran. Iran has a history of aircraft accidents involving a heavy loss of life. The government has blamed the US trade embargo, which makes it impossible for Iran to buy parts for its old American-built aircraft, but critics have also said the planes are poorly maintained.

On December 6, a military transport plane crashed into a 10-story building near Tehran's Mehrabad airport, killing 115 people. The plane, a US-made C-130, had suffered engine trouble and the pilot was returning to the airport when the aircraft suddenly lost height and slammed into the apartment building. Most of the passengers were Iranian journalists.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards are a separate organization from the regular armed forces. Founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Guards have their own air, naval and ground components. President Ahmadinejad is a former Guards commander.

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 02:45 IST