PRAGUE, September 1, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- An Iranian airliner with at least 147 people on board caught fire upon landing today at Mashhad airport. Iranian officials and media say between 60 and 90 people are feared dead.
The Russian-made Tupolev-154 was on an internal Iran Air Tours flight between the southern port city of Bandar-e Abbas and the northeastern city of Mashhad, near the Turkmen border.
It caught fire upon landing at 13:45 local time (10:15 GMT).
Iran's IRIB state broadcaster was the first to report on the crash and give a possible reason for the accident. It reported that the plane "suffered a burst tire while landing and flipped over and caught fire."
IRIB reported that 80 people died. However, subsequent reports have given a different death toll. Iranian media say rescuers have retrieved between 50 and 90 bodies from the wreckage of the plane.
"A team of experts from Iran's Civil Aviation Organization has been created, and it's their responsibility to [investigate] the issue,"Iran Air Tours President Mehdi Sadeghi said on Iran State Television. "They will announce the actual cause of the incident [publicly]. Unfortunately, a number of our compatriots have died, but the exact figures are not available because some have been transferred to hospitals. So, right now, we don't have exact figures."
The Fars news agency said about 40 people survived the crash and that some of them are in critical condition.
But an unidentified rescuer later told the agency only 20 people were found alive and all the other people on board had died either of burns or suffocation.
Despite IRIB's initial report, the cause of the accident remains unclear.
Nurollah Rezai Niaraki, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told the Mehr news agency that the pilot may be responsible for the crash.
In comments made to another agency, Iran's ISNA student news agency, Niaraki said the pilot was Russian and that Iran Air Tours had leased the plane from a Russian company.
His claims could not be immediately confirmed.
Iranian Transportation Minister Mohammad Rahmati pledged the government would swiftly and thoroughly investigate the accident.
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