BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan – Emergency workers combed through the wreckage of a passenger jet Monday after it crashed outside Kyrgyzstan's main airport, killing 65 people in an accident officials said was likely caused by technical problems.
The Boeing 737 was headed to Tehran when it crashed Sunday near Bishkek's Manas International Airport, government officials said. Twenty-five people survived the accident.
The crew reported a technical malfunction only five minutes into the flight, and it crashed shortly after as it was heading back to the airport, Transport and Communications Minister Nurlan Salaimanov said.
The plane burst into flames upon hitting a field about seven miles outside the airport.
Government spokeswoman Roza Daudova said the crash was likely caused by a decompression on board the jet. The plane belonged to the Kyrgyz company Itek Air, which was banned from operating in European Union's airspace because of failure to meet safety and aviation standards.
The U.S. air base in the ex-Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan supports operations in nearby Afghanistan, but Salaimanov ruled out terrorism as a cause of the crash.
"Without a doubt, this was not a terrorist act," Salaimanov told reporters Monday.
The plane carried 83 passengers — including members of a high school sports team — along with six crew members and an aviation official. Salaimanov said 25 people survived the crash, including the entire crew. Twenty-two were being treated in Bishkek hospitals and three people were sent home without serious injuries.
Daudova had earlier said that 68 people were killed and only 22 survived.
Daudova said that passengers included 24 Kyrgyz citizens, 52 Iranians, three Kazakhs, two Canadians, one citizen of Turkey and one Chinese.
Salaimanov said the passengers included a basketball team from a Bishkek high school. But presidential adviser Tokon Mamytov said that the athletes were volleyball, not basketball players.
Emergency officials have already retrieved two black box flight recorders and investigators were trying to determine the cause of the crash.
Kyrgyzstan is a poor, mountainous country west of China. Bishkek, the capital and the country's largest city, has a population about 1 million and is situated in the northern part of the Central Asian nation.
Manas International Airport is about 16 miles (25 kilometers) northwest of downtown.