As Iranians Mourn Crash Victims, Questions over Decision to Fly ; the Crash of a Military Plane Tuesday Killed 106 People, Including 68 Journalists

Article excerpt

Their grief tinged with anger, Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran Thursday to mourn the victims of a military plane crash that left 108 people dead. The victims were mostly journalists en route to military exercises, but included crew and people on the ground.

Tearful family members clung to each other and Iranian photographers and cameramen wept as caskets guarded by military police passed by in a procession of more than 10,000 people.

A poem from 8-year-old Sepah was read to remember her father, Sepahdar Sajedi, a reporter for Iran's national news agency, IRNA.

But even as the dead were officially declared "martyrs" after the crash Tuesday - in which an aging Iranian Air Force plane crashed into an apartment block immediately after takeoff - the media have raised questions about whether the plane should ever have taken off.

The plane, which was carrying journalists to cover military maneuvers in the southern port city of Chabahar, was delayed more than six hours. Hamshahri newspaper reported Wednesday that one of its photographers had called his wife during the delay, and told her there were technical problems, so the pilot had refused to fly.

Officials deny that, but the circumstances of takeoff remain unclear, and have sparked a surge of speculation about carelessness by authorities.

"Things happen to people who live in a third world country like Iran," says an IRNA journalist who asked not to be named, walking beside the caskets of the five IRNA staff who died.

"Some say it was a plot, a conspiracy, and they blame the government. They knew [the plane] was out of order. They warned them: 'Do not take off,'" says the journalist. "The government is not favoring journalists, because they say they are interfering in their affairs - especially the new government of [President] Ahmadinejad."

Such criticism has prompted action by politicians as Iranians ask why the military continues to use planes such as this Lockheed C- 130, bought from the US before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"I hope the authorities take maximum precision in security [of flights] and supervision, and parliament will be extremely sensitive on cases like this," parliament speaker Gholamali Hadadadel told the mourners. Each family is to receive $33,000 in government compensation, according to reports.

"Parliament will pursue this ... and I pray that God will keep these dear lives in his hands, and give patience to [family members] with burned hearts."

During the speeches, a mourner shouted out that the incident should be investigated. …


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