Passenger jet bound for Iran crashes in Kyrgyzstan; 71 killed

Ten high school basketball team players killed; at least 65 out of 90 on board plane killed in crash.

airplane 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
airplane 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A passenger jet carrying at least 90 people to Iran, including a Kyrgyz high school basketball team, crashed Sunday near the main airport in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz and US officials said. Government spokeswoman Roza Daudova said at least 71 people on board the plane were killed and 24 survived. She said the known survivors included seven out of 17 members of the basketball team from a school in Bishkek. The Boeing 737 crashed near the Bishkek airport, Maj. Damian Pickart, public affairs officer for the Manas US air base, which is at the airport, said. An official at Manas International Airport said the crash occurred after the crew reported a technical problem on board about 10 minutes into the flight to Tehran and that the plane was returning to the airport. Kyrgyz Interior Minister Maldomusa Kongatiyev said there were seven crew members on board in addition to the 83 passengers, adding that the plane went down 10 kilometers from the airport. Kyrgyz Emergency Situations Minister Kamchibek Tashiyev said 25 of the 90 aboard survived, Russia's Interfax and RIA-Novosti news agencies reported. At least 14 people rescued from the burning plane were hospitalized, two of them in critical condition, Yelena Bayalinova, said a spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Health Ministry. Pickart said the US base sent ambulances and firefighting equipment in response to a Kyrgyz request for help. The airport official said the plane belonged to Itek Air, a Kyrgyz company, but was operated by Iran Aseman Airlines. Interfax said the plane was headed to Mashhad in northeastern Iran. Itek Air has been banned from operating in the airspace of the European Union because of failure to meet safety and aviation standards, according to a list published by the EU July 24. Kyrgyzstan is a poor, mountainous country west of China. The US air base in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan supports operations in nearby Afghanistan. Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan and the country's largest city, has a population about 1 million and is situated in the northern part of the Central Asian nation. Manas International Airport is about 16 miles northwest of downtown. The United States has two bases in Central Asia, the one in Bishkek and the other in Uzbekistan, which are leased to support the US military operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan.