An Iranian passenger plane has caught fire while landing in the northeastern city of Mashhad, injuring at least 46 people on board, state television reported. Iranian officials told local news networks that the rear end of the Russian-built Tupolev 154 plane owned by Taban Airline caught fire as the aircraft was landing at Mashhad airport. "The plane caught fire while landing," state television quoted Javad Erfanian, the head of disaster management of Khorasan Razavi province of which Mashhad is the capital, as saying.
"Forty-six people have been injured, but most of them are not serious," he said, adding that emergency services evacuated the passengers after which the rear end of the aircraft broke up. The English language state-owned Press TV said the plane, travelling from Abadan in southwest Iran to Mashhad, had 157 passengers on board. Mr Erfanian said the plane also had 13 crew members on board. Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for Iranian civil aviation, said the plane had left Abadan on Saturday, but bad weather in Mashhad led to the aircraft landing in the central city of Isfahan for the night before it took off again for Mashhad early today.
"The captain had a critical patient on board and so had to do an emergency landing (in Mashhad) which is why the aircraft met with an accident," he was quoted as saying on the website of state television. Iran, which has been under years of international sanctions, has suffered a number of aviation disasters during the past decade. Its civil and military fleet is made up of ancient aircraft in very poor condition because of their age and lack of maintenance.
In its worst air accident, a plane carrying members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in February 2003, killing 302 people on board. In July last year, a Soviet-designed Tupolev had caught fire mid-air and plunged flaming into farmland northeast of Tehran, killing all 168 people on board. In December 2005, a total of 108 people were killed when a Lockheed transport plane crashed into a foot of a high-rise housing block outside Tehran.
In November 2006, a military plane crashed on takeoff at Tehran's Mehrabad airport, killing all 39 people on board, including 30 members of Revolutionary Guards. *AFP