Iran forces plane carrying Americans to land

A charter plane carrying 100 people, including Americans, out of Afghanistan was ordered to land in southern Iran because of errors in its flight plan, a Tehran-based official said today.

The rare incident prompted a flurry of reaction in the United States but the problem was solved and the aircraft headed on to Dubai, its original destination, after a few hours on the ground.

"We realised that the flight information was incorrect and to be sure there was no problem, we asked to pilot to land," said Mohammad Ali Ilkhani, head of the Iranian Airports Organisation.

Flight FZ 4359, operated by Fly Dubai, landed at an airport in Bandar Abbas, a port city on the Gulf. The plane had earlier left Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, US officials said yesterday.

The State Department quickly refuted US media reports that Iran had scrambled fighter jets and forced the charter plane to land.

Ilkhani said airport officials had not been aware that Americans were on board but the plane was asked to land because it was in Iranian airspace and there was a problem with its route information.

"We interviewed the pilot and verified his flight documents. The pilot acknowledged there had been errors. He was then allowed to leave," Ilkhani said.

After several hours on the ground, the plane was back in the air, deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said separately.

Washington and Tehran have not had formal diplomatic relations for three decades, since the 1979 storming of the US embassy in Tehran and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis.

In recent months, the two countries have been holding face-to-face negotiations on Iran's suspect nuclear programme, but ties remain tense.

Several Americans, including a US Marine, are being held by Tehran despite pleas from Washington to send them home.

"We have nothing to indicate there was more to it," Harf told CNN television, adding: "We really do view this as purely a bureaucratic issue."

CNN reported that the plane was told to land by Iranian authorities and warned that if it did not comply with the order, it would be intercepted.

It was not immediately clear who was on board the Fly Dubai plane, but defence officials confirmed it had been chartered by the US-led NATO International Security Assistance Force.

It was not disclosed if it was carrying any US troops flying from the sprawling Bagram military air base just outside the Afghan capital, Kabul.

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