'No survivors': Ukrainian jet crashes in Iran with 176 on board

State television reports that all passengers of the Boeing 737 plane heading to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv were killed.

    A Ukrainian airliner with 176 passengers and crew on board has crashed near Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport. Iran's state television said all those on board, most of whom were Iranians, were killed.

    According to Iranian media, the Boeing 737-800 jet crashed early on Wednesday near Parand, a suburb southwest of the capital Tehran, shortly after takeoff.

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    The plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport when a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry.

    The pilot then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

    Geoffrey Thomas, editor in chief of airlineratings.com, told Al Jazeera that mechanicalproblems were the likely cause of the incident.

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    "This appears to be an engine problem, it may well have been an explosion on board the aircraft," he said, adding that a "terrorist attack" could not be ruled out at this stage.

    Images posted on social media also indicated that there were no survivors. Earlier reports had said there were 180 people on board.

    Journalists from The Associated Press news agency who visited the site saw debris scattered across farmlands and human remains lying among shattered pieces of the aircraft. Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters as they worked.

    "Fortunately it didn't crash in the residential area but the wreckage has scattered around into gardens and villas within a large radius," Hossein Ahmadzadeh of the Robat Karim Fire Department told reporters.

    People stand near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran on January 8, 2020. All 176 people on board a Ukrainian passenger plane were
    People stand near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on Wednesday [Rohollah Vadati/ISNA/AFP]

    According to Flighradar24 flight tracker, the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 was scheduled to take off at 5:15am (01:45 GMT), heading for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

    However, the departure was delayed by almost an hour as it took off at 6:12am (02:42 GMT).

    A video posted by Iran's ISNA news agency showed a faint glow of light flickering in the dark shortly before a huge fireball was seen.

    Photos posted online by ISNA also showed the plane's wreckage scattered all over the ground as emergency personnel inspected the area.

    "An investigation team from the national aviation department was dispatched to the location after the news was announced. We will give more reports in upcoming bulletins," Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization told reporters in Tehran.

    Ali Abedzadeh, head of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, later said that Tehran will not hand over to the US the recovered black box of the plane.

    Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy extended his condolences to the families of the victims as Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed the death toll. Zelenskyy said a Ukrainian search-and-rescue team would fly to Iran on Wednesday night to assist. 

    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said he had spoken to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif following the crash.

    "Agreed to coordinate further actions of our investigation groups closely to determine the cause of the terrible plane crash," he tweeted.

    Staff at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, where the flight was headed, told AP that passengers on this flight were usually Iranian students returning to Ukraine after winter holidays. 

    In a statement, Boeing said it was described the events as "tragic" and said it was "ready to assist in any way needed". 

    Meanwhile, the airline president, Evgeny Dykhne said the plane that crashed was one of the company's best planes, and had just been inspected on Monday.

    Company vice president Igor Sosnovsky added that the plane had reached a height of 2,400 metres when the accident happened.

    "The chances of a mistake by the crew are minimal."

    Later on Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Prystaiko said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, including the crew. 

    There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals," he said. 

    Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne sent a message of support upon learning of the Canadian deaths, the most in any aviation disaster.

    The incident comes just hours after Iran launched a retaliatory attack on two United States military bases in Iraq.

    The Boeing 737-800 is a common single-aisle, twin-engine jet used for short to medium-range flights. Thousands of these planes are used by airlines around the world.

    Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes. There are almost 5,000 Boeing 737-800s in use around the world.

    Kurt Hofmann, an aviation writer for Air Transport World, told Al Jazeera that the Boeing 737-800 was "one of the most reliable aircraft worldwide". 

    A number of 737-800 aircraft have been involved in accidents over the years.

    In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62 people on board. Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 people on board.

    In recent years, Iran has seen several plane crashes.

    In early 2019, a Boeing 707 military cargo plane crashed in bad weather west of the Iranian capital, killing 15 of the 16 passengers.

    In February 2018, 65 people died when an Iranian passenger plane crashed during a flight from Tehran to Yasuj.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies