Hazy details obscure circumstances of Caspian Tu-154 crash

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Recovery teams in Iran have reportedly retrieved flight recorders from the wreckage of the Caspian Airlines Tupolev Tu-154 which crashed near the city of Qazvin yesterday.

There is still little confirmed information about the circumstances of the accident, which killed 168 occupants. A passenger manifest released by Caspian Airlines shows 156 passengers and 12 crew members were on board.

Unconfirmed witness reports suggest the aircraft - which was operating the Tehran-Yerevan route as flight 7908 - was on fire, with its undercarriage lowered, before it struck open land and disintegrated.

Senior Armenian civil aviation authority figures have been quoted as stating the crew was attempting an emergency landing after fire broke out in one of its three Soloviev D-30KU engines.

But Iranian television, citing crisis management officials, says that the last contact with the pilot, three minutes before the accident, revealed no abnormality.

The authority is said to have confirmed a departure time of 12:02 - although it is unclear whether this refers to Yerevan or Tehran local time, between which there is a 30min difference.

It refers to a planned entry into Armenian airspace of 12:52, but says Iranian communications were received in Armenia just beforehand reporting that the aircraft was no longer on radar.

There has been no formal confirmation of the airframe identity but the Tu-154 is widely believed to be the 22-year old EP-CPG, which was formerly operated by Afghanistan's flag-carrier Ariana.