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Plane hits Tehran highrise

Tehran, Dec. 6 (Reuters): An Iranian military plane carrying scores of journalists crashed into a Tehran apartment block and exploded today, killing up to 120 people on board the aircraft and on the ground, police and witnesses said.

All 94 of those on board the C-130 transport plane were killed, officials said. Several children, at home because schools were closed due to a smog alert in the capital, were among those who died in the apartment block, they added.

The Tehran coroner’s office said it expected between 110 and 120 dead.

“Both the main and reserve fuel tanks were full which is why the plane went up in flames as soon as it hit the building,” Ahmad Ziaie, the head of Iran’s fire brigade told state television. He said the building which was hit, located in a densely populated area of south Tehran, housed about 150 people.

The Air Force plane was bound for the southern port of Bandar Abbas. It was taking scores of local journalists to cover military exercises in the Gulf. The pilot had reported engine trouble and requested an emergency landing at Tehran’s Mehrabad international airport, but crashed just short of the runway, police said.

Iranian media quoted witnesses as saying one of the plane’s wings was on fire as it came down. Iranian journalists at the scene wept and consoled one another over their colleagues’ deaths.

“I was supposed to be on the plane as well so I don’t know whether to be happy or sad,” said a journalist from the ISNA students news agency who declined to be identified. He said a colleague had called him from inside the plane before take off. “He said that the pilot didn’t want to fly because there was a technical problem with the plane.”

An interior ministry spokesman said some of those killed on the ground had been in their cars, whose burned-out shells littered the crash site.

The front of the plane was destroyed on impact. A propeller and ripped wing smouldered in front of the blackened flats. Flames licked out of the windows of the apartments and thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

“Some people were throwing themselves out of windows to escape the flames. I saw two die like that,” a policeman said. Passerby Hassan Hedayati, his face covered in dust and hands caked with dried blood, was among the first on the scene.

“I pulled 30 bodies out of the plane. They were all charred,” he said.

The apartment block, which was still standing, is in the Shahrak-e Towhid neighbourhood, a special residential area for the military and their families. It lies on the flightpath to Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.

Scuffles broke out as police cordoned off the area, trying to keep hundreds of anxious residents from pushing past them.

Emergency services used helicopters, ambulances and buses to evacuate the wounded. Iran has a poor airline safety record following a string of air disasters in the past 30 years.

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