Storm stalls search at Iranian crash site

All 302 elite soldiers, crew on military jet were killed


TEHRAN, Iran - Workers searched yesterday through fog and storm in the mountains of Sirach, in southeastern Iran, where a military aircraft crashed Wednesday, killing all 302 soldiers and crew members aboard.

About 600 searchers - including experienced mountain climbers, members of the Revolutionary Guards and relief workers - were enlisted early yesterday to try to recover the bodies of the victims and pieces of the aircraft, a Russian-made Ilyushin 76. The passengers were members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of the army responsible for defending the Islamic government and securing border areas.

The plane hit an 11,500-foot peak in Kerman province about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, leaving a large black mark on the rocky mountainside, a witness said.

The governor of Kerman, Mohammad Ali Karimi, told the Islamic Republic News Agency that the work of retrieving victims' remains was being hampered by bad weather and strong winds. He said workers were using bulldozers and helicopters to try to clear a route through deep snow to the mountaintop, but the bad weather halted the operation in the afternoon, the news agency reported.

Kerman province announced three days of public mourning.

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander, Abdol-Muhammad Raoofinejad, told the news agency that the victims were mostly from the city of Kerman and were returning home on leave from service in Sistan-Baluchestan, a province that shares a border with Pakistan and Afghanistan. Television news reports said the soldiers were returning from "an important mission."

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