Iranian pilots dispute US accounts

A senior pilot and safety inspector for Iran Air says the Iranian government does not consider the region of the Gulf where the United States Navy shot down an Iranian airliner Sunday as a war zone. The only declared war zone, Capt. Mehroujan Gharib said in a Tuesday press meeting here, was in the northeastern region of the Gulf. He added that there is normally heavy air traffic in the Strait of Hormuz and that in the past 10 days, there had been some 700 civilian flights over the area where the tragedy occurred.

Capt. Massoud Razavi, another senior Iran Air pilot who flies the Airbus A300, the model shot down on Sunday, took issue during the press session with the assertion by US officials that the Airbus was emitting an electronic, military identification code as the Pentagon has reported. On the daily Iran Air flight from Dubai to Bandar Abbas and other destinations, Captain Razavi said, pilots set the four-digit transponder code as part of their standard procedures.

``The transponder we are using is a standard transponder. We are using Mode A,'' he said, which is normal for civilian aircraft. He added that he did not know what Pentagon officials meant when they referred to ``Mode 2'' and ``Mode 3,'' since this is not terminology used in civilian aviation.

Pentagon reports have said that ``Mode 2'' for the air traffic control transponder is used by both civilian and military aircraft, and ``Mode 3'' is used only by the military. US officials say there were emissions from the Airbus on both channels and that the ``electronic messages'' were similar to those emitted by an F-14 jet fighter.

Razavi insisted Iranian crews do monitor the emergency frequency which the cruiser USS Vincennes says it used repeatedly to warn the Iran Air flight before it was shot down.

``We have heard and do answer the US radio calls. We have answered them when we are properly called. I am sure they were listening on the frequency,'' he said, referring to the destroyed Airbus's crew.

But Razavi said that because of the heavy air traffic over the Gulf it was sometimes difficult to know if one's aircraft was being called.

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