By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) – There were no survivors among the 65 passengers and crew on an Iranian plane that ploughed into a mountain top, where most of the bodies lie buried under snow, the first rescue team to reach the wreckage said on Tuesday.
The Aseman Airlines plane disappeared from radar screens 50 minutes into Sunday’s flight from Tehran to the southwestern city of Yasuj. Iranian military located the wreckage in the central province of Isfahan on Tuesday morning.
“Only parts of the airplane are visible and the rest is deeply buried… The rescue team have seen 30 bodies on the ground,” an official from Iran’s Red Crescent was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency.
The remaining passengers and crew were buried under the snow, the official said.
“The plane had hit top of the mountain before crashing 30 metres (100 feet) further down,” the pilot of a rescue helicopter told state television.
Glacial temperatures and the mountainous terrain hampered search and rescue efforts, adding to the grief and anger felt by families of the victims in a society plagued by risky air travel where officials blame decades of sanctions for the poor state of national fleet.
The twin-engined turboprop ATR 72 that crashed was over 24 years old. According to data cited by the Flight Safety Foundation’s aviation-safety.net website, it was restored to service just three months ago after being in storage for six years.
More than 100 people demonstrated on Monday outside a local government office in nearby Dena Kooh county, demanding officials step down for their handling of the disaster after announcements that wreckage had been found on Monday were then denied.
A video on Tasnim showed an angry man shouting “Would you have flown on the same plane?” at Roads and Urban Development Minister Abbas Akhoundi.
Revolutionary Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told state television the wreckage was eventually spotted by a military drone.
After a long wait to locate the plane, relatives will have to endure further delays until the bodies are returned as helicopters are unable to land in the hostile terrain and the work will have to be carried out on foot, an emergency service official said.
Iran has suffered several plane crashes in recent decades. Tehran blames U.S. sanctions for preventing it from importing new aircraft or spare parts.
A Boeing 727 crashed in northwest Iran in 2011, killing 78 people, and in 2009 all 168 people on board died when a Caspian Airlines Tupolev crashed en route for Armenia. In 2003 an Ilyushin-76 troop carrier crashed in southeast Iran, killing all 276 Revolutionary Guard soldiers and crew.
A deal with world powers on Tehran’s nuclear programme in 2015 opened the way for Iranian airlines to update their fleets but many older planes are still in service, particularly on domestic routes.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and John Stonestreet)