BEIRUT, Lebanon — A flaming commercial airliner crashed in northwestern Iran on Wednesday, killing all 168 people on board in the deadliest civil aviation disaster in the Islamic republic in two decades.
Caspian Airways Flight 7908, headed from Tehran, Iran, to Yerevan, Armenia, crashed minutes before noon in the Takestan region of Iran's Qazvin province, state media reported.
Footage of the crash broadcast on state television showed a huge crater created by the jet, a Russian-built TU-154 that appeared to have splintered on impact.
The crash underscored what civil aviation experts consider the dilapidated state of Iran's fleet of aircraft and air transport industry under severe international sanctions that prevent it from purchasing Western-made Boeing or Airbus aircraft.
The U.S. has offered to lift sanctions that ban the sale of planes with more than 10 percent of U.S. components as part of a deal involving a curtailing of Iran's nuclear research program. Iranian officials repeatedly have dismissed such offers while charging that the American posture puts the lives of ordinary travelers at risk.
Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for the state aviation company, told Iranian television that 153 passengers and 15 crew members were aboard and that the flight recorders had been recovered.
Among those killed were 10 members of the Iranian national youth judo squad traveling to a summer training camp. At least six passengers were Armenian citizens, and some were citizens of neighboring Georgia, Armenian news agencies reported.
Caspian, a 16-year-old commercial airlines based in Tehran, flies in Iran and to Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates and Armenia with Russian-made Tupolev jets. The TU-154 is described as the Russian equivalent of the Boeing 727. The model first entered service with Russia's Aeroflot airlines in 1972.