| GEO World|
| 168 people killed in Iran fiery plane crash|
| Updated at: 0251 PST, Thursday, July 16, 2009|
JANAT ABAD: An Iranian airliner en route to Armenia caught fire mid-air and plunged flaming into farmland Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board in the worst air disaster in Iran in years.
Witnesses and state media said the Caspian Airlines plane was ablaze before smashing into the ground and exploding near a village northeast of Tehran shortly after taking off from the capital's international airport.
Television images showed a vast crater at the disaster site littered with debris of plane parts, shoes and clothes.
A relief worker who declined to be named told media at the site that all he found were "pieces of flesh and bones."
"There is not a single piece which can be identified. There is not a single finger of anybody left," he said, standing next to a body bag filled with human flesh.
"All people aboard... the crashed plane are dead. The plane had 153 passengers and 15 crew members," said Mohammad Reza Montazer Khorasan, head of the health ministry's disaster management centre.
In Yerevan, the deputy head of the Armenian civil aviation organisation, Arsen Pogossian, told a press conference that of the 153 passengers aboard, 147 were Iranian, of whom 31 were of Armenian origin.
The remaining six were four Armenians and two Georgians. Iranian officials said 10 members of Iran's junior national judo team were also among those killed.
Pogossian said the pilot had attempted an emergency landing after an engine caught fire. "A fire broke out in one engine, and the pilot attempted an emergency landing," Pogossian said, while stressing that his comment was "not an official version" of what had occurred.
Witnesses too spoke of seeing the plane on fire before it plunged to earth.
"I saw the plane when it was just ... above the ground. Its wheels were out and there was fire blazing from the lower parts," witness Ablolfazl Idaji said, according to the Fars news agency.
"It seemed the pilot was trying to land and moments later the plane hit the ground and broke into pieces that were scattered far and wide."
A farmer, 18-year-old Ahmad, gave a similar account.