168 Lost In Iranian Tu-154 Crash

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The airliner that crashed and burned in Iran on Wednesday about 15 minutes after takeoff, killing all 168 on board, was a Russian-built Tupolev 154 operated by Caspian Airlines, based in Iran. An aviation official said a fire broke out in an engine, and the crew attempted an emergency landing. The cockpit voice recorder has not yet been recovered, and news reports said the crew had not discussed the emergency with air traffic control. At the crash site, near a farmer's field, the aircraft exploded and burned, leaving a 30-foot-deep hole in the ground. Sanctions enacted after the 1979 Islamic revolution prevent Iran from buying new aircraft or spare parts from the U.S., or from the European consortium Airbus if the aircraft contains U.S. parts. The country's airlines depend on an aging fleet of Boeing and Airbus jets along with the Tupolevs. The airplane that crashed was built in 1987.

"I saw the plane crashing nose-down. It hit the ground causing a big explosion. The impact shook the ground like an earthquake," Ali Akbar Hashemi, who was working nearby, told the Associated Press.