Five Armenian nationals who piloted an Armenian-owned passenger jet that crashed in Iran on Thursday were officially confirmed dead on Friday along with the 26 other people on board the Soviet-made plane.
Iranian Transport Minister Rahman Dadman and seven members of the Iranian parliament were among the victims of the tragedy. Reports from Iran said search teams found the wreckage of the plane on a mountainside about 20 kilometers from the city of Sari, some 250 kilometers northeast of Tehran.
The Yak-40 aircraft belonged to the state-controlled Armenian Airlines and was on lease to Iran's Faraz-e Qeshm Airlines. Experts from Armenia arrived Thursday in Tehran to examine the crash site as search teams began looking for the plane's black box. Officials in the Armenian civil aviation authority confirmed the identity of the crew members, including the two pilots, Ashot Amirbekian and Abraham Vartanian. The three other crew members were identified as Rodrig Hakobian, Hamlet Uhatian and Sarkis Grigorian.
It was the first major crash involving an Armenian Airlines plane. Agence France Press quoted the head of Iran's civil aviation authority, Behzad Mazaheri, as saying that a crisis center comprising representatives from President Mohammad Khatami, the parliament and the elite Revolutionary Guards was set up to shed light on the crash.
Official sources in Yerevan said a similar international commission could also be formed. They said the ill-fated Yak-40, manufactured in 1978, had undergone a regular technical check-up in Armenia two months before going down in northeastern Iran. It reportedly disappeared from radar screens after the pilot announced he will try to make an emergency landing in bad weather in Sari.