Crashed Iranian airliner 'disintegrated into pieces'

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(CNN) -- An Iranian airliner which crashed Wednesday killing all 168 passengers and crew plunged into the ground and disintegrated on impact, according to a security official.

Debris from the plane was littered around the crash site.

Debris from the plane was littered around the crash site.

Images of the crash site showed a smoldering crater scattered with charred pieces of the plane and tattered passports.

Ten members of the country's youth judo team were aboard the Caspian Airlines plane, several sources including Press TV reported. The network said the dead included eight athletes and two coaches.

The plane "disintegrated into pieces," said Col. Masood Jafari Nasab, security commander of the city of Qazvin, close to the crash site.

Video of the crash site showed a huge crater in the earth scattered with charred pieces of the plane and tattered passports.

"The aircraft all of a sudden fell out of the sky and exploded on impact, where you see the crater," a witness told Press TV from the crash site.

Sirous Saberi, the deputy governor of Qazvin province, said military forces are searching for the plane's data recorder and cockpit voice recorder to determine the cause of the crash, Press TV said.

The Russian-made Tupolev plane went down near the village of Jannatabad near Qazvin at 11:33 am on Wednesday, the station reported. Video Watch images of crash site »

Qazvin Police Chief Hossein Behzadpour and Mohammad Reza Montazer Khorasan, the head of the disaster management center in Iran's health ministry, both confirmed that all 168 people on board were killed in the crash, Press TV reported

Qazvin is the largest city in the province of Qazvin and is its capital, with an estimated population of 330,000.

It is about 140 kilometers (90 miles) northwest of Tehran, the capital of Iran.

The Iranian newspaper Hamshahri reported that the plane was flying from Tehran and was headed to Yerevan, Armenia. See map of the crash location »

The semi-official Mehr news agency listed the names of 153 passengers and 15 crew members. At least 42 of the names appeared to be Armenian, but it was not clear if they were from the former Soviet republic or if they were ethnically Armenian citizens of Iran.

The plane -- identified as flight number 7908 -- crashed 16 minutes after takeoff, said the newspaper, quoting a spokesman from Iran's civil aviation organization.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed his condolences to the victims' families, as did the European Union in a statement.

Media reports said the type of aircraft involved in the crash was a Tupolev 154.

The three-engine Tupolev 154 is the aging workhorse of Russia's commercial fleet, at one time carrying about half of all Russian air passengers.

It was designed as the Soviet counterpart to the Boeing 727 and the European-made Trident, but with the added ability to operate from short, rough runways. About 1,000 were produced.

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Although a popular aircraft, it has had a checkered history and has been involved in about 30 air disasters since it was created in 1968.

Aviation analyst Kieran Daly told CNN said numerous Tupolevs have been lost since the aircraft was introduced in the 70s. Video Watch Daly talk about air crash »

"Having said that there were many of them built, and they have been in service in quite difficult parts of the world for a very long time. But there have been a lot of these Tupolev 154s lost, quite a few in Iran."

The last plane crash in Iran involving a Tupolev plane occurred in 2006, according to the Web site airdisaster.com.

That crash occurred on an Iran Air Tour flight from the port city of Bandar Abbas; it crashed and caught fire during landing, the Web site reported.

Twenty-nine of the 147 people on board died in that crash.

-- CNN's Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report

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