Kyrgyz plane crash kills 68

Kyrgyzstan Materials 25 August 2008 08:40 (UTC +04:00)

Sixty-eight people, including members of a teenage basketball team, died on Sunday when a Kyrgyz airliner crashed in a ball of flames shortly after take-off from the Central Asian state's main airport.

"There are 22 survivors," Emergencies Minister Kamchibek Tashiyev told Reuters. He said there had been a total of 90 passengers and crew members aboard the Boeing 737-200.

The plane, owned by local private carrier Itek-Air, was chartered by an Iranian company and bound for Tehran.

A spokesman for the Manas airport has earlier said the plane reported a technical problem shortly after it had taken off at 2030 (3:30 p.m. British time) and tried to return to the airport.

Kyrgyz officials, including Prime Minister Igor Chudinov, rushed to the airport for an emergency meeting.

Chudinov said afterwards that initial reports suggested the plane had suffered a sudden loss of cabin pressure, causing the pilot to request an emergency landing.

A government official told reporters that 17 teenagers, a basketball team from a local sports school, were on board. He said seven of them survived and were in hospital.

Police sealed off the crash site, close to the Manas airport runway. Part of the airport is used by the U.S. military as a base to supply the international force fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Airport employees who had seen the wreckage said the tail was the only part of the fuselage still intact.

Transport Minister Nurlan Sulaimanov said the plane, built in 1979, was in good shape and had been inspected only two months ago, Reuters reported.