Iranian search and rescue teams have finally found the wreckage and remains of some 30 of the 65 passengers and crew of the Aseman Airlines ATR-72 plane, a twin-engine turboprop that went missing Feb. 18. The airplane — which had departed from Tehran and was scheduled to land in the southwestern city of Yasuj — crashed into remote Mount Dena in the Zagros Mountains. Mount Dena has an elevation of nearly 4,409 meters (14,465 feet).
Search and rescue teams reached the site after two days of searching in heavy snow. The 24-year-old aircraft was restored to service only three months ago after being out of service for six years. Decades of US sanctions have left Iran’s fleet dilapidated, though restrictions were specifically lifted under the nuclear deal.
Capt. Ali Farahani, the pilot of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps helicopter that flew over the wreckage, said Feb. 20 that there is no chance any of the passengers or crew survived.
Farahani added, “The plane hit right on the peak [of Mount Dena]. … We at first saw spots, but we then saw a number of aircraft parts that in the end were confirmed as the place of impact.”
The pilot said that if the plane had flown 50 meters (164 feet) higher, it could have passed over the mountain peak; however, it is possible that airflow had forced the plane lower its altitude.
Farahani said that the reason for the crash is not clear and that little will be known for certain until the plane's black box is found.
The head of the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran, Ali Abedzadeh, said Feb. 20, “The black box that had been installed on the plane is very modern, and access to its software is easy.” He added, “A team from France will help us read the [data from the] black box [once it is located].”
Fars news agency reported Feb. 20 on the dangerous situation facing search and rescue crews.
“Along with the steep slope of the mountain, over 2 meters of snow in the area of the plane’s impact has made it hard for rescuers to work. … If the bodies are [found] at one single point, there is the possibility of returning all the bodies by the end of today; otherwise, the operation will continue [for the] coming days,” Fars said.
The news agency added, “Two hundred members of the Red Crescent and 80 climbers are ready to assist, but there is a risk of avalanches due to sound and wind caused by helicopters.”
The minister of information and communications technology, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, wrote on his Instagram page Feb. 19 that the cellphone of one of the plane’s passengers "was on after the disappearance of the plane and was accessible until 7 p.m. on the same day, but it switched off due to its battery dying."
He said that before the disappearance of the plane on the radar, one person on land had called one of the passengers and they had spoken with each other. It appears the conversation took place while the plane was still in the air.
According to ISNA news agency, the pilot of the plane was skilled and had saved passengers in another incident in 2013. Hojatollah Foulad succeeded in landing that aircraft at Yasuj airport even though the plane had lost its right engine.