An Iranian military aircraft crashed at a Teheran airport yesterday, killing at least 37 people, state-run television reported.
It said one person was in hospital after surviving the crash in the Russian-designed Antonov-74, which was being used by the Revolutionary Guards.
Two people were originally reported to have survived but one later died, state television said.
The Guards, the ideological wing of the Islamic Republic’s military, had earlier said the plane was carrying 32 Guards and six crew. All the crew were killed.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) had earlier quoted Guards Commander-in-Chief Yahya Rahim Safavi hinting at possible sabotage but other Iranian news agencies later carried comments by him denying such remarks.
“I see the possibility of any kind of sabotage in this accident as weak, and if I have been quoted in that regard I deny it now,” Safavi said the IRNA and Fars news agencies reported.
Television pictures showed plane parts scattered along the runway and a charred fuselage.
A crane was lifting up part of the plane after flames had been doused. The tail painted in military colours was one of the few parts still recognizable.
Details about whether the plane had left the runway before it crashed and the final death toll remained unclear. Police officials said 39 people were killed.
State television said the plane crashed shortly after taking off but a police officer, Eskandar Momeni, told ISNA news agency an engine failed due to “technical problems” when it was still on the runway, causing it to veer, hit an obstacle and explode.
The news agency said the flight recorder, the so-called “black box,” had been retrieved and was being examined by the investigation team.
The television said the plane was headed for Shiraz, a city south of Teheran, when it crashed at Mehrabad Airport, which is used for civilian and military flights.
The Guards statement said the Guards members “were going to southern Iran on a mission” but gave no further details.
US sanctions against Iran have prevented it from buying new aircraft or spares from the West, forcing it to supplement its ageing fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes with aircraft from the former Soviet Union.
A military plane crashed in January, killing at least 11 people and another military plane hit a tower block in Teheran in December last year, killing 94 people on board and at least 22 on the ground.