At least 71 dead in Kyrgyz air crash

Kyrgyzstan Materials 24 August 2008 23:56 (UTC +04:00)

At least 71 people are believed dead in the crash of an Itek Air Boeing 737 passenger liner shortly after take off from Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek on Sunday, the country's Health Ministry confirmed.

Employees of Bishkek airport however spoke of more than 80 dead. According to the Civil Defence Ministry the downed airliner, which had been en route from Bishkek to Tehran, was completely consumed by fire.

Contradictory statements were provided as to the number of passengers aboard the aircraft, with Bishkek airport reporting that 120 passengers had checked in plus an indetermined number of flight crew.

In contrast, Civil Defence Minister Kamchibek Tashiyev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the plane was carrying only a total of 90 people, of whom 25 survived.

Most of the passengers were Iranian citizens, the government in Bishkek reported. Also on board were the Kyrgyz youth basketball team.

Unconfirmed reports have it that the pilots attempted to engaged in an emergency landing immediately after takeoff.

Rescue workers and police had cordoned off the area of the crash cite, which in the evening was visited by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Igor Chudinov.

Itek Air is one of more than a dozen Kyrgyz airlines that are banned from flying into the European Union due to safety concerns, dpa reported.