Kyrgyzstan: Tehran-bound airliner crashes, killing 68 passengers

news from, map from

· School volleyball team members among dead

· Reports that door was blocked on burning plane

Damien Francis, The Guardian, Monday August 25 2008

At least 68 people were killed when a Boeing 737 airliner crashed and burst into flames near Kyrgyzstan’s main airport yesterday. The plane, whose passengers included 17 members of a school volleyball team, came down shortly after take-off.

There were reports that passengers were trapped inside the burning wreckage by a blocked door and that there was a stampede to the remaining exit.

The Boeing, which was owned by local private carrier Itek-Air, was chartered by an Iranian company and bound for Tehran, officials said.

Kyrgyz officials, including the prime minister, Igor Chudinov, rushed to the airport for an emergency meeting.

Chudinov said initial reports suggested the plane had suffered a sudden loss of cabin pressure, causing the pilot to request an emergency landing about 10 minutes into the flight.

He told reporters there were nationals from China, Turkey, Iran and Canada on board, but gave no further details.

Health ministry spokeswoman Yelena Bayalinova said 68 people died and 22 survived. Officials later published a list of the survivors, including eight Iranians and 14 Kyrgyz nationals.

Presidential adviser Tokon Mamytov said seven of the 17 teenagers in the volleyball team were among survivors. At least two of those in hospital were said to be in a critical condition.

Police sealed off the crash site, close to the Manas airport runway. Part of the airport is used by the US military to supply the international force fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Major Damian Pickart, public affairs officer for the US air base at Manas, said US ambulances and firefighters helped at the crash site.

Airport employees who had seen the wreckage said the tail was the only part of the fuselage still intact.

Transport minister Nurlan Sulaimanov said the plane, built in 1979, was in good condition and had been inspected only two months ago.

“When the plane caught fire, one of its doors was blocked and everyone rushed to another door,” a government spokesman said. “There was a stampede and many of those on board will only be able to be identified using DNA analysis.”

Itek Air has been banned from operating in the airspace of the European Union because of failure to meet safety and aviation standards, according to a list published by the EU on July 24.

In another air disaster yesterday, a small plane crashed in a field in eastern Guatemala killing 10 people.

The Cessna Caravan 208 was on route to the town of El Estor when it came down in a field of crops. Eight passengers, including five Americans, were killed, along with the Guatemalan pilot and co-pilot. Four Americans on board were injured.

Both accidents follow the Spanair disaster that killed 154 people in Madrid. The plane, which was bound for the Canary Islands, crashed on takeoff.


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