By Ruzanna Stepanian
An Armenian cargo plane bound for the United Arab Emirates burned down late Tuesday shortly after making an emergency landing near Tehran, officials in Yerevan confirmed the next day.
A spokeswoman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department told RFE/RL that the Antonov-12 belonging to the Yerevan-based Feniks airline caught fire after a mid-air collision with wild birds. Gayane Davtian said all 12 members of the crew survived the accident.
A separate statement by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said four of them were lightly injured and hospitalized by Iranian health authorities. “At the moment their health condition is satisfactory and they have been transferred to a hotel,” said the statement.
According to Davtian, the Soviet-made propeller plane was on its way to the UAE city of Sharjah when it burst into flames just minutes after unloading cargo in the Iranian capital. “Several minutes after takeoff the plane collided with a flock of birds that literally rammed its engines, causing them to break down,” she said. “Thanks to the aircrew captain the incident did not turn into a disaster.”
“The plane was left burning, and in essence nothing is left of it now,” added the official.
Feniks officials could not be immediately reached for comment. The little-known company is one of some 20 mostly small airlines registered in Armenia. At least half of them are known to carry out commercial flights outside the country, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.
One such carrier, Tiga Air, became embroiled in a complex international scandal in 2004 when the entire aircrew of its sole cargo plane was arrested in Equatorial Guinea and handed lengthy jail terms on extremely controversial coup charges. The six Armenian pilots never pleaded guilty to the accusations and were set free in June 2005 after spending more than one year in a notorious local prison.