Engine fire blamed for Iran plane crash which killed 176, including Britons

Three Britons have died after a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed moments after take-off from Iran, with local officials blaming an engine fire.

All 167 passengers and nine crew on the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737 flight from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv were killed minutes after take-off at 6.10am local time (2.40am GMT) on Wednesday.

The Foreign Office said it is "urgently seeking confirmation" of the British death toll, while the Ukrainian president has ordered a criminal investigation into the crash.

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Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers search the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A relative of one of flight stewardesses, who were on the board a Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, reacts at Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
CORRECTS YEAR - Debris is seen from a plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying at least 170 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport, killing all onboard, state TV reported. (AP Photos/Mohammad Nasiri)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Bodies of passengers are being carried from the site by search and rescue team members after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Passengers' belongings are seen as search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Passengers' belongings are seen as search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Rescue teams recover debris from a field after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - The Boeing 737 had left Tehran's international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - The Boeing 737 had left Tehran's international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
People and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - The Boeing 737 had left Tehran's international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site. (Photo by Rouhollah VAHDATI / ISNA / AFP) (Photo by ROUHOLLAH VAHDATI/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)
People walk near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - The Boeing 737 had left Tehran's international airport bound for Kiev, semi-official news agency ISNA said, adding that 10 ambulances were sent to the crash site. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - People stand near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran on January 8, 2020. - All 176 people on board a Ukrainian passenger plane were killed when it crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on January 8, Iranian state media reported. State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members were on board the aircraft operated by Ukraine International Airlines. (Photo by Rouhollah VAHDATI / ISNA / AFP) (Photo by ROUHOLLAH VAHDATI/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers' belongings are seen after the Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed after take-off from Iran's Imam Khomeini airport, on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran January 8, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
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The crash comes amid escalating tension in the Persian Gulf following the killing last week of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by the US, prompting several airlines to reroute flights away from Tehran's airspace.

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appears a fire had started in one of the plane's engines.

The pilot then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Mr Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Ukrainian officials initially agreed with Iran, but later declined to offer a cause while the investigation was under way.

Some 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 people from the Ukraine, nine of whom were crew members, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans were on board the flight along with three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had ordered the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to open criminal proceedings.

He said: "An investigation commission should be set up of representatives of the civil and aviation agencies responsible for civil aviation. We have to work out all the possible versions.

"Regardless of the conclusions regarding the causes of the Iranian catastrophe, the airworthiness of the entire civilian fleet will be tested.

"I keep all measures on personal control. I very much ask everyone to refrain from speculation and putting forward untested versions of the disaster before the official announcements."

The airline said it had suspended flights to Tehran until further notice.

A spokesman said: "Today, on January 8, 2020, a Ukraine International Airlines aircraft while operating flight PS752 from Tehran to Kyiv disappeared from the radars a few minutes after departure from Tehran International Airport.

"UIA representatives are currently clarifying the exact number of passengers on board.

"The airline expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims.

"With immediate effect, UIA has decided to suspend its flights to Tehran until further notice."

Iran Plane Crash
A rescue worker searches the scene where the plane crashed in Shahedshahr, south-west of the Iranian capital Tehran (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

A Foreign Office spokesman added: "We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in the plane crash in Iran overnight.

"We are urgently seeking confirmation about how many British nationals were on board and will do all we can to support any families affected."

Melinda Simmons, British ambassador to the Ukraine, said her thoughts are with those affected.

A Boeing statement said: "This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families.

"We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time.

"We are ready to assist in any way needed."

The airline said the aircraft was a 737-800, built in 2016.

A number of 737-800 models have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.

Iran Plane Crash
A forensic investigator works at the scene of the crash, which killed all those on board (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62.

A 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 people.

However, it is a different model to the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, which were grounded around the world following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed 157 people shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa in March last year.

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