1150 GMT January 19, 2019
A military cargo plane overshot a runway, crashed and caught fire during a botched landing near the Iranian capital Tehran on Monday, killing 15 people.
The plane was carrying meat from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan when it crashed near the capital Tehran, an army spokesman told national TV, adding that only the flight engineer survived.
"The plane had 16 passengers, 14 of whom were the army crew and two were civilians; 15 were martyred," spokesman Shahin Taqikhani said. "One, the flight engineer, was injured and is currently in hospital."
He said the plane belonged to Iran and that all on board were Iranian citizens. The army’s statement came after conflicting reports over who owned the plane.
The aircraft, which bore the paint scheme of the Iranian Air Force’s civilian Saha Airlines, was making emergency landing around 8:30 a.m. Monday at Fath Airport, an airfield controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.
The charred remains of a plane's fuselage, its nose wedged through the wall of what appeared to be a house, were seen in photographs carried by various news agencies.
Pictures published by local media showed the charred carcasses of the animals on board, still smoldering inside one of the buildings the plane smashed into.
A video went viral showing emergency teams cutting through the aircraft's nose, which had penetrated an empty residential complex.
Wreckage including a landing gear and a mangled jet engine were scattered nearby.
Iranian national television aired images of smoke-charred homes and the fuselage of the aircraft lying on the ground in the neighborhood. Small fires burned around it.
"A (Boeing) cargo 707 plane carrying meat took off from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and had an emergency landing at Fath Airport this morning," the Army said.
"It exited the runway during the landing and caught fire after hitting the wall at the end of the runway."
Fath Airport is in Alborz Province, just northwest of Tehran.
The plane was meant to land at the nearby Payam International Airport, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tehran.
Authorities did not immediately offer a reason for the crew’s decision to land instead at Fath Airport. That airport is some 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) southwest of Payam. Its runway is some 1,100-meters (3,600-feet) long, compared to Payam’s 3,600 meters (11,800 feet). In November, a commercial airline reportedly mistook Fath for Payam, but was able to abort its landing.
IRNA news agency said doomed flight likewise mistook Fath for Payam.
The plane was carrying a cargo of meat from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, to Iran. Since 2016, Iran has been importing meat from Kyrgyzstan, usually via Saha. It imported 150 tons in 2016 and 350 tons in 2017.
Saha Airlines operated one of the world’s last commercial flights of the Boeing 707, which was first manufactured in 1958 and helped usher in the jet age. The four-engine, narrow-body aircraft were built until 1979.
Saha Airlines’ Boeing 707s suffered a previous fatal crash in April 2005, when a flight coming from the Kish Island crash-landed at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, killing three passengers.
Investigators found a black box from the plane – a cockpit voice recorder (CVR), which will provide more details about the crash, Deputy Alborz Governor Azizollah Shahbazi said.
Iran's ageing air fleet has had a string of crashes in recent years.
Iran has suffered a series of major aviation disasters in recent decades. Its last major crash happened in February 2018, when an Aseman Airlines ATR-72 brought back into service only months earlier after being grounded for seven years crashed in a foggy, mountainous region of southern Iran, killing all 65 people aboard.
In January 2011, an Iran Air Boeing 727 broke to pieces while trying an emergency landing in a snowstorm in northwestern Iran, killing at least 77 people.
In July 2009, a Russian-made jetliner crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 168 on board. A Russian-made Ilyushin 76 crashed in southeastern Iran in February 2003, killing 302 people.
Iran has been subject to tough US sanctions for years, hindering the purchase of new airplanes and critical spare parts for the US-made planes in its air force, civilian flag carrier Iran Air and domestic airlines.
Hopes for a change in the situation were dashed last May when the President Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 deal over Iran's nuclear program, reimposing sanctions that had been lifted as part of the multilateral accord. As a result a deal to purchase tens of passenger planes from Boing Company was also unilaterally abrogated by the company under pressures exerted by Trump administration. Civilians are the main victims of the sanctions.
AFP, AP and Reuters contributed to this story.