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July 17, 2009

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Black box recorders found after jet crash

TWO badly damaged black box recorders have been recovered from a Tupolev aircraft that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board, official media reported yesterday.

The cause of the worst air disaster in Iran for six years was still unknown, state television said.

Deputy Transport Minister Ahmad Majidi, who is leading the probe into the incident, said it was "likely due to technical problems" as the pilot was experienced, the Mehr News Agency reported.

The aircraft was on its way to neighboring Armenia's capital Yerevan when it came down after catching fire in mid-air and ploughing into farmland 16 minutes after departing Tehran.

The Russian-built Caspian Airlines plane exploded on impact and left only scattered bits of incinerated metal and fragments of the bodies of 153 passengers and 15 crew across a wide area around a deep smoking crater in the ground.

"Because of the severity of the crash, the two black box recorders found are badly damaged, even though they are made of steel," Majidi told Mehr News Agency.

"The tapes were out on the ground. We might send the black box to the country where it was manufactured (Russia) to chase the issue with their help," he said.

Majidi said DNA testing would be needed to identify the remains. Most of those onboard were Iranians, but there were also Armenian and Georgian citizens.

Eight members of Iran's national junior judo team and two coaches were among the dead.

About 40 relatives and friends of the victims planned to fly from Yerevan to Tehran yesterday, Caspian Airline official Arlen Davudyan said.

"I lost my best friend. He was almost a brother ... I'm flying to Tehran to pay my condolences to his wife and kids," said Mehdi Sohrabi, a 27-year-old Iranian who studies in Armenia.

Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for Iran's aviation organization, said five specialists from Russia would arrive in Tehran today to help with the investigation.

It was the deadliest crash in Iran since 2003 when an Ilyushin Il-76, also Russian built, crashed into a mountain.


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