A Tupolev plane operating a Caspian Airlines commercial flight from Tehran to Yerevan crashed on Wednesday in northwest Iran, near the city of Qazvin.
The Caspian Airlines office in Yerevan told RFE/RL that all 153 passengers and 15 crew on board the plane were killed. The identities of the plane’s passengers and crew are being verified.
According to the same source, two of the crew members were Armenians – technicians Suren Soghomonian and Grigor Barseghian.
Iranian-Armenian journalist Vardan Davtian told RFE/RL from Tehran that “at 11:33 in the morning, a plane belonging to Caspian Airline operating flight 7908, with 153 passengers and 15 crew members on board, crashed near Qazvin 16 minutes after its takeoff and unfortunately all passengers, as is reported, are not alive, there is no hope that any of the passengers would survive.”
According to Davtian, there is not yet information about passengers, but “generally many Armenians fly Tehran-Yerevan.”
The Iranian-Armenian journalist said nothing was yet known about the possible cause of the crash.
Later, Davtian told RFE/RL that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed his condolences to the families and relatives of the dead. He set up a special group to discuss the causes of the crash and instructed that results be reported immediately to him.
The Iranian-Armenian journalist said that according to unofficial reports, fire broke out inside the plane before it crashed. He stressed that no official information was available yet.
Davtian reported a large number of cars and a lot of noise on the highway leading to Tehran’s International Imam Khomeini Airport.
Iranian Press TV reports that members of Iran’s Junior Judo squad -- eight athletes and two coaches -- were among those killed in the crash.
In Yerevan's Zvartnots Airport, distraught friends and family members waited for a passenger list to be posted for the fatal crash. One man, speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service, said Iranian flights are considered notoriously unsafe: "If we look over a period of a year, we'll see how many planes crashed in Iran. It is simply surprising that we don't sober up, seeing all this. Anyone who once traveled to Iran by air knows that it is horrible to fly on board the old Russian Tupolev planes that the Iranians had leased. There is always a chance this plane will crash. This is a fact. Personally, I am not surprised that this plane crashed."
A spokesperson for the Armenian government-affiliated Head Department of Civil Aviation said to RFE/RL: “According to the information we have, a Tu-154 plane en route from Tehran to Yerevan and carrying 153 passengers and 15 crew members, suffered a crash at 12.09 pm, 16 minutes after takeoff.”
Nelli Cherchinian also said information on the number of deaths was being verified.
The spokesperson also said a working group had been set up at the department to clarify the circumstances of the crash.
The press office of the president of Armenia reports that President Serzh Sarkisian cut short his working visit to the Shirak province in Armenia over the Tehran-Yerevan plane crash and returned to capital Yerevan.
A hotline was set up at the Foreign Ministry of Armenia for information on the crash. Inquiries can be made by calling on +37410562543, +37410566811 and +37410544041 (ext. 202 or 217).