Death Toll Now 128 in Iranian Plane Crash

12-6-05 - An Iranian military transport plane crashed into a 10-story apartment building as it was trying to make an emergency landing Tuesday, ripping open the top of the structure and igniting a huge fire. At least 128 people were killed.

All 94 people on the plane were killed, most of them Iranian journalists heading to cover military maneuvers in the south, and 34 residents of the apartment building also died, with 90 injured, Tehran state radio said.

Flames leaped out of windows as panicked residents fled the Towhid residential complex, a series of high-rise apartment buildings for army personnel in the Azadi suburb of Tehran.

Wreckage rained down, hitting a nearby gas station, police said. Cars parked below were smashed by falling debris. At the foot of the blackened building, a pile of wreckage was in flames.

Firefighters managed to put out the fire in the building, which was damaged and charred but still standing. Police cordoned off the area, preventing journalists and a crowd of thousands of people from getting near the site. Many in the crowd were screaming, afraid their relatives had been killed.

"It was like an earthquake," said Reza Sadeqi, a 25-year-old merchant, who saw the plane hit the building and added he was thrown about 9 feet inside his shop by the force of the crash.

"I felt the heat of the fire caused by the crash. It was like being in hell," he said.

The C-130 aircraft had just taken off from the nearby Mehrabad Airport en route to the southern port of Bandar Abbas. The plane experienced a technical problem and was returning to the airport for an emergency landing when it hit the building, state-run television said.

Witness Iraj Mordin told AP the plane appeared to be circling the airport when its tail suddenly burst into flames, leaving a smoke trail as it plummeted.

Mordin said he thought the plane was going to crash into a gas station and fled, but turned and saw it slam into what he thought was the building's eighth floor.

The plane, which belonged to the army air force, carried 84 passengers and a crew of 10, state TV reported. All aboard were killed, the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, told The Associated Press.

In April, an Iranian military Boeing 707 with 157 people aboard skidded off a runway at Tehran airport and caught fire, killing three people. Last year, a Ukrainian-built aircraft carrying aerospace scientists crashed in central Iran, killing all 44 people aboard.

In 2003, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people. And in 1988, an Iran Air A300 Airbus was shot down by the USS Vincennes over the Persian Gulf, killing 290.