TEHRAN, Iran – A military plane loaded with Iranian journalists crashed into a 10-story apartment building Tuesday as the pilot attempted an emergency landing after developing engine trouble. At least 115 people died, the Tehran police chief said.
Witnesses initially said the C-130 hit the top of the building. But officials, including Police Chief Mortaza Talaei, said one wing of the transport plane hit the second floor as the fuselage crashed to ground, gouging out a huge crater and causing a fire that spread through the structure.
Everyone on the plane — 84 passengers and a crew of 10 — was killed. Most were Iranian radio and television journalists heading to cover military maneuvers in southern Iran.
Twenty-one people in the apartment building also died, and 90 were injured, Tehran state radio said. Only nine of the injured were hospitalized late Tuesday, Talaei said on Iranian television.
The C-130, a four-engine turboprop, crashed in the Azari suburb of Tehran, site of the Towhid apartment complex that is home to air force personnel and near Tehran's Mehrabad airport.
Before firefighters extinguished the blaze, flames roared from the roof and windows in several of the upper floors. Panicked residents fled the building. Police held back a crowd of thousands, many of them screaming and weeping that they had to find friends or loved ones who were in the building.
Scuffles broke out and police beat back onlookers and those trying to reach the building to keep the way open for emergency vehicles.
Several hours after the crash, the building still was smoldering, with black smoke hanging in the air.
"It was like an earthquake," said Reza Sadeqi, a 25-year-old merchant who saw the plane hit the building. He said he was thrown about nine feet inside his shop by the force of the crash.
"I felt the heat of the fire caused by the crash. It was like being in hell," he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, sent condolences.
"Rescue teams are required to employ their maximum capability to save and help the survivors," state-run television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. He asked one of his deputies to take charge and ensure survivors receive the help they need.
The plane, which belonged to the army air force, had just taken off for Bandar Abbas in southern Iran when it developed engine trouble. As it headed back to Mehrabad Airport, the pilot was unable to maintain sufficient altitude and hit the apartment complex, state-run television said.
The report discounted sabotage or terrorism. Aviation officials were not available for comment.
Witness Iraj Moradin told The Associated Press the plane appeared to be circling the airport when its tail suddenly burst into flames, leaving a smoke trail as it plummeted. He said he fled when he thought the plane was going to crash into a gas station, but turned in time to see it hit the building.
The C-130 is built by Lockheed. The plane may have been sold to the Iranian air force when the United States had close relations with the Iranian monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, before the Islamic revolution in 1979.
In April, an Iranian military Boeing 707 with 157 people aboard skidded off a runway at Tehran airport and caught fire, killing three people. In 2003, a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 carrying members of the elite Revolutionary Guards crashed in the mountains of southeastern Iran, killing 302 people.
In 2002, a Ukrainian-built aircraft carrying aerospace scientists crashed in central Iran, killing all 44 people aboard. And in 1988, an Iran Air A300 Airbus was shot down by the USS Vincennes over the Persian Gulf, killing 290.