71 die in Boeing 737 crash in Kyrgyzstan

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — A passenger plane from an airline banned in Europe over safety concerns crashed today shortly after taking off from Kyrgyzstan’s main airport, killing at least 71 people on board, officials said.

About 10 minutes into the flight to Tehran, the crew of the Boeing 737 reported a technical problem and said the plane was returning to the airport, said an official at Manas International Airport who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to give her name.

Government spokeswoman Roza Daudova said at least 71 people on board the plane were killed and 24 survived. She said the known survivors included seven out of 17 members of a high school basketball team from Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Interior Minister Maldomusa Kongatiyev told the AP the plane was carrying 83 passengers and seven crew members when it went down six miles from the airport in the Central Asian country.

Maj. Damian Pickart, public affairs officer for the Manas American air base, which is at the airport, said the U.S. base sent ambulances and firefighting equipment in response to a Kyrgyz request for help.

Emergency and government officials said the plane belonged to Itek Air, a Kyrgyz company, but was operated by Iran Aseman Airlines. However, presidential adviser Tokon Mamytov said the plane both belonged to and was operated by Itek Air.

Itek Air has been banned from operating in European Union airspace because of failure to meet safety and aviation standards, according to a list published by the EU July 24.

At least 14 people rescued from the burning plane were hospitalized, two of them in critical condition, Yelena Bayalinova, a spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Health Ministry, told AP.

Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Ramis Satybekov said the crash was likely caused was either an engine failure or a malfunction in the plane’s flight control system. Daudova, however, said the cause of the crash was decompression of the jet.

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