Iran Shot Down Ukrainian Passenger Plane That Crashed in Tehran, US Officials Say
Iran shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran on Tuesday by mistake, U.S. officials told multiple news outlets Thursday.
The United States believes Iran’s Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system fired at the Boeing 737 and caused the deadly wreck, a Pentagon official and a senior U.S. intelligence official told Newsweek, which broke the story. The anonymous officials said the Pentagon’s assessment was that the incident was accidental.
Newsweek also cited an anonymous Iraqi intelligence official as blaming the missile system, which is known to NATO as Gauntlet.
The U.S. Central Command did not respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.
CBS News, citing its own sources, reported that U.S. intelligence picked up signals of a radar being turned on and two surface-to-air missile launches. The sources said the launches were detected shortly before the plane exploded and that missile fragments were found near the crash site.
Officials also told The Associated Press it was “highly likely” an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed the jetliner.
Speaking to reporters in Washington Thursday, President Donald Trump said he believes Iran is responsible for the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side,” he said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”
While he did not directly accuse the Islamic Republic, Trump dismissed Tehran’s claims that a mechanical issue was at fault.
“Some people say it was mechanical,” he said. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
Iran allegedly shot down the plane hours after firing missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq
Earlier Thursday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several working theories regarding the crash, including a missile strike.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main [theories], as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” he said.
Danilov said investigators want to search the crash site for possible debris of a Russian missile, and said there had been a reference online to the existence of such debris. He did not elaborate on where he saw the information on the internet.
The Kyiv-bound airliner burst into flames just minutes after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. All 167 passengers and nine crew members were killed. On board were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said.
The crash came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers. It was also less than an hour after the Federal Aviation Administration barred U.S. civil aviation “from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.”
However, Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said one of the engines of the 3 1/2-year-old plane apparently caught fire, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
A witness on the ground was quoted by The Associated Press as saying he heard “a massive explosion.” Another witness said he believed the pilot had steered the plane toward a soccer field and away from a residential area.
Ukrainian officials initially agreed with Iran, saying in a statement: “The possibility of a terrorist attack or a rocket attack can currently be ruled out.” But they later backed away and declined to offer a cause pending an investigation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani assured him in a phone call of full cooperation in investigating the crash, including “prompt access to all the necessary data.”
The timeline of the crash
A day earlier, Ukraine International Airlines said an investigation would be conducted into the crash involving authorities from Ukraine, Iran and Boeing representatives. The airline said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.
The Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, Rosaviatsia, told Russian air carriers Wednesday to avoid flights in the airspace of Iraq, Iran, the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday.
“Due to information on existing security risks for international civil aircraft flights, Rosaviatsia recommends until further notice not to use the airspace over the territories of Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman for Russian civilian flights, including transit flights,” RIA news agency quoted the Rosaviatsia statement as saying.
The doomed plane took off to the west at 6:12 a.m. local time after nearly an hourlong delay, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. It was last tracked about two minutes after takeoff at just below 8,000 feet.
The director-general of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, Hassan Rezaeifar, said that the aircraft did not declare an emergency.
Boeing 737-800s have been involved in other fatal accidents over the years. In 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 crashed in Russia, killing 62 people. In 2010, an Air India 737-800 crashed in southern India, killing 150 passengers and crew.
The airplane maker said it was aware of the crash in Tehran and was “gathering more information.”
(This is a developing story. Please check here for updates.)
People investigate the scene of a Boeing 737 crash in Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8, 2020. (Screen grab)