Crashed Itek 737 was attempting return to Bishkek

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Kyrgyzstan's transport ministry has confirmed that the Itek Air Boeing 737-200 which crashed yesterday near Bishkek had sought to return to the capital's Manas International Airport because of a technical problem.

Sixty-five of the 90 people on board the aircraft were killed after it attempted an emergency landing near the town of Dzhangi-Dzher in the country's northern Sokuluk district.

In a statement, transport minister Nurlan Sulaymanov says the aircraft, operating on lease to Iran Aseman Airlines, departed Bishkek for Tehran at 20:30. It was carrying 83 passengers, mostly Iranian, plus six crew members and a representative of the Iranian airline.

At 20:35, says Sulaymanov, the crew made a "request to return for technical reasons". The nature of this technical issue has not been clarified.

The aircraft, however, did not manage to reach Bishkek. Sulaymanov says it attempted an emergency landing in the vicinity of Dzhani-Dzher, northwest of Bishkek, at 20:43.

"As a result of colliding with the ground the aircraft was destroyed, and burned," he adds. Twenty-five of those on board survived the accident, with a preliminary manifest indicating that these include the co-pilot. Twenty-two survivors remain in hospital, says Sulaymanov.

Images from the scene show the aircraft, operating as flight 6895, came down in an open area of land but little remains except the empennage, which was badly damaged by fire. The emergency situations ministry says rescue operations ended at 06:30 today.

Itek Air has informed the ministry that the aircraft was "technically sound" and had recently passed an examination clearing it for flight.

Kyrgyzstan's Government has identified the airframe as a 28-year old 737 registered EX-009. It has ordered that a commission be set up to establish the cause of the accident, to report initial findings in 10 days.

Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee (MAK), which assists with air accident investigation in former Soviet states, says it is to aid the inquiry and will send a representative to Bishkek today.