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The IranAir Disaster: Mourning and Anger

by ALI CHENAR in Tehran

10 Jan 2011 19:49Comments
26_8910200596_L600.jpg[ dispatch ] Last night an aging Boeing 727 left Tehran for Orumieh, a city in northwest Iran, where Armenians, Azeris, and Kurds have long lived together. Weather conditions were poor and visibility dropped dramatically as the plane neared the airport. It appears that the pilot aborted his first attempt at a landing. The second approach turned into disaster. There is speculation that the pilot tried to perform an emergency landing in order to save the passengers.

On impact, the fuselage broke into four pieces. Early reports indicated that there were 50 survivors. Now the number of survivors is down to 28, and 77 are dead. A physician at one of the Orumieh hospitals who attended to the survivors said that many have suffered severe injuries. Despite the rescue efforts, all of the air crew and most of the passengers died in the crash.

The official response has demonstrated how politically charged such events have become in Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered a full investigation. Hamid Behbahani, minister of transportation, personally took charge of the disaster response. Yet to the families of the victims, who are mourning their great loss, these efforts mean little.

"I am angry, hopeless, frustrated, and simply do not know what to do," Nima, 29, whose uncle was killed in the crash, told Tehran Bureau. "They had canceled two earlier flights. Why was this one permitted to take off?"

According to Nima, after first boarding, the passengers had been taken off the plane because of poor weather conditions. The flight was later given the green light. "I still can't believe it -- my uncle was sitting right there in our living room."

When IRINN broke the news of the crash, Nima and his mother did not lose hope. "They said that there were survivors -- we were praying that he had survived," he said. They called Orumieh, where their relatives had rushed to their uncle's house to offer support. Around 3:40 a.m. they called back. A cousin had identified his remains.

"We called our family members in Tehran to leave for Orumieh," Nima said. Weather conditions still are poor and it is snowing in Tehran and the northwestern part of the country, but this did not stop Nima and others from leaving to be with their families. "This is a trying time. We want to be there to mourn him."

Of course, no one is flying in this weather any longer. The railroad does not go to Orumieh. The only option is the bus. In this weather that means a 15-hour trip between the cities, plus however long it takes to negotiate Tehran's terrible traffic conditions -- a bitter reminder of why people like Nima's uncle chose to fly yesterday despite the risks.

Iran has experienced a high rate of air accidents in recent years. This is the eighth crash of a commercial aircraft in the country since January 2008, resulting in a total of 334 deaths. Many in the airline industry blame sanctions. Iran has officially complained to the International Civil Aviation Organization about sanctions' negative impact on its aviation sector, claiming that sanctions "have endangered the lives of innocent individuals in the most inhuman way." However, as far as statements for domestic consumption are concerned, the authorities are unwilling to admit publicly that sanctions have jeopardized aviation safety in Iran.

Nima is less concerned with the political niceties. "It is a fact that flying is risky these days," he said, "and these things keep happening. My question is not why they happen, but why it seems that no one is working to prevent them."

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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