TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian search-and-rescue teams on Tuesday offered the first images of the site of an airplane crash in southern Iran that killed 65 people, with officials hoping to reach the aircraft’s “black boxes” to learn exactly what downed the flight.
State television aired footage showing the plane crash site against the side of a snow-covered mountain near Yasuj, some 780 kilometers (485 miles) south of Tehran, Iran’s capital from which the Aseman Airlines flight took off on Sunday.
A helicopter pilot interviewed by state television said the crash site appeared to be only 30 meters (100 feet) from a peak on Mount Dena in the Zagros Mountain range.
“Some large parts of the plane, which were labeled with the Aseman company logo, were seen,” said the pilot, identified by state TV only as Capt. Soheili.
Authorities hoped searchers would recover the aircraft’s “black boxes” later Tuesday. That equipment, typically painted in a bright color to allow searchers to easily find it, records cockpit conversations and radio transmissions, as well as other data from a flight.
“If the conditions are right, the ‘black box’ will be taken out of the plane today and will be delivered to Aseman Airlines,” the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Masoud As’adi Samani, the secretary of Iran’s Air Society Association, as saying.
The site also was too dangerous for helicopters to land on it, forcing rescue crews to jump out the hovering aircraft, according to state TV footage. The site is at an altitude of some 3,500 meters (11,500 feet).
The semi-official Fars news agency quoted the chief of the Iranian army’s ground forces, Gen. Kiumars Heidari, as saying commandos in special vehicles would need to drive up to the site to collect the dead.
Separately, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard released a still image of the site captured by one of its drones, which it said showed corpses in the snow.
Late on Tuesday state TV’s website said recovery teams were preparing to transfer 32 bodies but weather conditions and darkness were affecting the operation.
The Aseman Airlines ATR-72, a twin-engine turboprop used for short-distance regional flying, went down on Sunday in foggy weather. All on board Flight EP3704 were killed, including 59 passengers and six crew members.
Aseman Airlines, owned by Iran’s civil service pension foundation, is a semi-private air carrier headquartered in Tehran and is Iran’s third-largest airline by fleet size, behind state carrier Iran Air and Mahan Air. It specializes in flights to remote airfields across the country but also flies internationally, although it is banned in the European Union over safety concerns.
The ATR-72 that crashed Sunday, with the tail number EP-ATS, was built in 1993. On Instagram, Aseman Airlines highlighted the doomed aircraft in October, saying it had been “grounded” for seven years but would be “repaired and will be operational after checking and testing.” It wasn’t clear what led to the grounding, though Iran only recently regained access to the airplane parts market after its nuclear deal with world powers.
A seven-member delegation from France, including officials from the French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR, arrived in Iran on Monday to assist the investigation.