Twelve crew-members from the Venezuelan cargo plane held in Argentina for more than three months, due to an investigation involving the United States and Iran, were welcomed home by family members and officials at an airport near Caracas on Friday.
"I am extremely excited to be back. Really being here, sharing it with our family... fills us with emotion," said Captain Vicente Raga, one of the flight crew, in an interview with state television.
He was speaking after they had arrived on a flight at Maiquetia international airport, about 25 kilometres from the Venezuelan capital.
On Tuesday, a court in Argentina authorised the departure of 12 of the 19 crew from the detained aircraft, which belongs to the Emtrasur airline, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned Conviasa, a firm which is sanctioned by the United States.
The Federal Court of Appeals in La Plata upheld the decision of Judge Federico Villena, who on August 1 lifted a ban on 11 Venezuelan and one Iranian crew members from leaving Argentina, according to a ruling published in the press.
"A part of us stayed there, with the comrades who did not come [with us], but we hope they will soon be back," Raga added.
Four Iranians – including Gholamrez Ghasemi, who is accused of belonging to Iran's Al Quds force, a branch of the Revolutionary Guard – and three Venezuelans still face banning orders, blocking them from leaving the country.
"We are celebrating the arrival of our first 12 crew members from our Emtrasur aircraft. They are an example of ethics, strength and struggle," said Transport Minister Ramón Velásquez Araguayán at a reception prepared by the Venezuelan government, which has described the situation in Argentina as "a kidnapping."
The Emtrasur Boeing 747 arrived in Argentina on June 6 from Mexico with a Venezuelan-Iranian crew and a cargo of auto parts.
Unable to refuel in Buenos Aires due to US sanctions, the plane left for Uruguay on June 8, but was refused entry by the Uruguayan authorities and had to return to Argentina's Ezeiza International Airport, on the outskirts of the capital.
An investigation was then opened by the courts, which quickly enforced banning orders on the crew.
The aircraft was bought a year ago from the Iranian airline Mahan Air.
In mid-August, Judge Villena granted a US request to seize the Boeing 747 in response to a Columbia District Court order that US export control laws were "violated" when the aircraft was sold.