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Thu, Apr 21, 2005

Iranian Pilots Hailed As Heroes

They Steered Burning Plane Off Runway And Into River

Surviving aboard an Iranian Boeing 707 (file pic, below) landing in Tehran Wednesday night have high praise for the flight deck crew after the aircraft apparently suffered an engine or brake fire. Unable to stop the aircraft as it sped down the runway, the airplane beginning to burn furiously, the crew steered the aging airliner into a nearby river, dousing the flames.

The Saha Airlines flight with 157 passengers on board was on a flight to Tehran from Kish, a resort island in the Persian Gulf. Local media reports say up to 50 of the passengers were killed in the mishap, although that report wasn't confirmed.

"When the plane touched the ground, the passengers felt that it was not a normal landing and several attempts were made to reduce speed but the plane was still rushing," Lu Xinzhong, a Chinese passenger whose glasses were broken in the accident, told China's official Xinhua News Agency. "We could just feel the plane was rushing very fast. The lamps in the cabin were all off, it was dark and we could see nothing buta shining firelight at the left wing, and women and children were screaming."

Lu said the flight crew may have tried to take off again as it sped toward the end of the runway, but was unable to get back into the air.

"If the plane went on, it might have collided with buildings or something else," he said. "None of us could survive."

Lu told Xinhua the pilots instead chose to steer for a river near the end of the runway. The plane came to rest in about 15 feet of water.

But if the crew was praised for its heroism in fighting the 707 to a stop and dousing the engine fire, they were villified for what happened next. Lu said the flight attendants and flight deck crew rushed out of the aircraft ahead of the passengers.

"Some people who remain unwounded were rescuing others, but the crew members left. I tried to find them for help, but they disappeared," he said.

Saha Airlines is owned by the Iranian military, but operates civilian flights as well.

FMI: www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/ir.html 

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