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302 Killed in Iran's Worst Plane Crash Ever - 2003-02-20

A plane crash in Iran has claimed the lives of 302 people, in one of the highest death tolls in world aviation history. The plane crashed into a mountainside late Wednesday afternoon, possibly as the result of bad weather.

Everyone on board the plane, including 284 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and 18 crewmembers, died 30 kilometers from their destination, when the Russian made aircraft slammed into the side of a mountain. The plane was en route from Zahedan, on the Pakistan border, to Kerman, about 800 kilometers southeast of Tehran

Tehran television says aircraft controllers reported losing radio contact with the aircraft, just moments after the pilot reported bad weather and high winds. Snow was reported in the area of the crash.

The dead soldiers were serving in an elite military unit under the direct control of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rescuers have reported finding the aircraft's wings and are combing the mountainside for other wreckage. It was Iran's worst-ever air disaster, surpassing the 290 killed in 1988 when U.S. forces said they mistook an Iran Air 300Airbus as fighter plane and shot it down over the Persian Gulf.

Iran has experienced a string of deadly plane crashes in recent years, including one last December in which 44 people were killed, including Russian and Ukrainian aeronautical engineers. In February of 2002, 119 people were killed when a civilian Russian made Tupolev-154 crashed in southwestern Iran.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has supplemented its aging fleet of Boeing and European-made Airbus airliners with planes leased or purchased from the former Soviet Union.

The world's worst airline disaster occurred in 1977, when two jumbo jets collided in the Canary Islands, killing 583 people.