Iran has abandoned the hunt for an Aseman Airlines plane that disappeared with 66 people onboard in the country’s Zagros mountains until morning.
The hunt was called off as blizzard conditions made progress impossible for rescue teams, state television said Sunday.
“With the wind intensifying, and with snow, rain and darkness, it is not possible for rescue and relief teams to reach high altitudes and the search operation has been postponed until tomorrow,” broadcaster IRIB announced.
“Five helicopters are on alert to resume the search at dawn if the weather conditions are better.”
Aseman Airlines flight EP3704 disappeared from radar 45 minutes after taking off from Tehran.
The ATR-72 twin-engine plane, in service for 25 years, left the capital’s Mehrabad airport around 8:00 am (0430 GMT) and was heading towards the city of Yasuj, some 500 kilometres (300 miles) to the south.
The Red Crescent said 45 teams had been deployed to the Dena mountain of Iran’s southwestern Zagros range, but there was still no sign of any wreckage.
“The mountainous terrain is impassable. Thick fog and snow and rain have made it impossible to use helicopters,” said Morteza Salimi, head of its rescue and relief section.
The airline said 60 passengers, including one child, were on board flight EP3704, as well as six crew.
It was the third disaster to strike Iran in recent months, after an earthquake that killed at least 620 people in Kermanshah in November and 30 Iranian sailors were lost in an oil tanker collision off China’s coast last month.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message of condolence, saying the news had “left our hearts overwhelmed with sadness and sorrow”, according to state television.
Families of the passengers gathered at a mosque near Mehrabad airport.
“I can’t bring myself to believe it,” said a woman whose husband was on board.
A man who missed the doomed flight told reporters of his conflicting emotions.