A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards stands
Tehran - AFP
An Iranian passenger plane crashed Sunday moments after takeoff from Tehran, killing at least 38 on board and narrowly avoiding many more deaths when it plummeted near a busy market.
The plane was headed to the eastern city of Tabas, the IRNA and Fars news agencies said, when it crashed at 9.18 am (0448 GMT), after leaving Mehrabad airport.
It triggered a fireball when it smashed into the capital's Azadi neighbourhood, close to where hundreds of military families live, and only a few hundred metres (yards) from a row of shops.
Iran's deputy transport minister, Ahmad Majidi, said the Antonov An-140 turboprop plane had 40 passengers, including six children, and eight crew on board, and he put the death toll at 38.
A fire official initially said all on board had been killed but Fars later reported that 37 bodies were sent to the morgue and IRNA said nine people were hospitalised, two of them critically injured.
The aircraft was operated by Sepahan Airlines and a tailfin bearing the company's dolphin logo could be seen sticking out of the road as security forces cordoned off the crash site where firefighters had doused the flames.
Black smoke billowed from the mass of burnt out twisted metal, with officials saying the plane hit a wall and trees.
"The scene was terrible, with the back of the plane in the middle of the street," one eyewitness said.
"But we were lucky because there was a market 500 metres (yards) away and a lot of people were there."
Another eyewitness told state television: "I was on my motorbike and I heard something behind me. I turned round and it was a plane, so I got on to the ground because it was so close.
"With other people, we ran to try and save the passengers but there were two or three loud explosions and a huge fire."
Mehrabad airport is near central Tehran and it is by far the country's busiest domestic hub, serving routes to all major Iranian cities.
Most international passenger flights take off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport, which is located further west of the capital.
Alireza Jahangirian, the head of Iran's civil aviation authority, said: "The plane crashed in trees. There were no casualties on the ground."
An investigation is under way, he added.
The Ukrainian-designed An-140 is intended for regional use, has a range of around 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) and can carry up to 52. Iranian airlines are one of the plane's biggest users.
The Isna news agency reported that the plane in Sunday's crash had been assembled under license by an Iranian company in Esfahan, a city 450 kilometres south of Tehran.
- Several air crashes -
Iran has suffered several air crashes in recent years, blamed on ageing planes, poor maintenance and a shortage of new parts because of international sanctions.
Iranian airlines, including state-run operators, are short of finance and have seen business suffer because of banking restrictions imposed on the Islamic republic by the United States and Europe.
Iran's last major air crash was in January 2011, when an Iran Air Boeing 727 shattered on impact while attempting an emergency landing in a snowstorm in the country's northwest, killing 77 people.
And in July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner crashed shortly after taking off from the capital, killing all 168 people on board.