February 20, 2003
TEHRAN, Iran -- An Iranian military plane carrying 302 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran on Wednesday, killing all on board in the country's worst plane crash.
The plane was en route from Zahedan, on the Pakistan border, to Kerman, about 500 miles southeast of Tehran, state-run Tehran television reported. It crashed in a mountainous area about 20 miles from its destination.
The Russian-made Antonov airliner, operated by the Iranian military, lost contact with the control tower at 5:30 p.m., according to the reports.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said that rescuers had reached the crash site and that all 302 people on board had been killed. The toll surpassed the 290 killed on July 3, 1988, when an Iran Air A300 Airbus was shot down over the Persian Gulf by the USS Vincennes.
The agency said the plane's passengers and crew were all members of the Revolutionary Guards.
State television and radio did not offer reasons for the crash and did not address the possibility of terrorism. There was heavy snowfall in many parts of Iran on Wednesday, including in Zahedan, which hadn't seen snow in three years.
Tehran television quoted an anonymous official as saying the forces had visited the impoverished Sistan-Baluchestan province, of which Zahedan is the capital, for an "important mission."
The Revolutionary Guards, under the direct control of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are seen as the defenders of Iran's Islamic regime. The guards protect Iran's borders and defend ruling hard-liners.
The government issued a statement offering condolences to the families of the victims.
Iranians were preparing for an Islamic holiday today, the feast of Velayat, when Shiites believe Islam's prophet Mohammed appointed his son-in-law, Ali, as his successor.
Wednesday's crash was the latest in a series of air disasters in Iran mostly involving Russian-built aircraft.
A Ukrainian An-140 aircraft flew into a mountainside Dec. 23, 2002, while preparing to land at an airport near the central city of Isfahan, killing all 46 scientists aboard.
In February 2002, a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-154 airliner, carrying 119 people, smashed into snow-covered mountains not far from its destination of Khorramabad, 230 miles southwest of Tehran.
Some of the worst plane crashes in the past 20 years:
May 25, 2002: A China Airlines plane flying from Taipei to Hong Kong crashes in the Taiwan Strait shortly after takeoff, killing 225 people.
Nov. 12, 2001: An American Airlines plane headed from New York to the Dominican Republic crashes shortly after takeoff into a residential neighborhood, killing all 260 people aboard and five people on the ground.
Oct. 31, 1999: Egypt Air Boeing 767 crashes into the Atlantic after taking off from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on flight to Cairo, Egypt; 217 killed.
Nov. 12, 1996: Saudi 747 collides shortly after takeoff with a Kazak Ilyushin-76 making its landing approach; 349 killed.
Aug. 12, 1985: Japan Air Lines 747 crashes into a mountain in worst single-aircraft crash toll in aviation industry; 520 killed.
Sept. 1, 1983: Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 shot down by a Soviet fighter after flying through Soviet airspace; 269 killed.