Iran Finally Admitted ‘Accidentally’ Shot Down Ukrainian Plane That Killed 176 People
Iranian officials have admitted to accidentally shooting down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet on Wednesday, killing all 176 on board.
In a statement released Saturday, the government blamed “human error” for its military firing the missiles that destroyed the Boeing 737-800, the Associated Press reported.
The Iranian government had previously maintained that engine failure caused the crash, which occurred shortly after the airliner took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport outside Tehran, bound for Kyiv.
Many of the passengers were due to make a connecting flight to Toronto—82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians were among the dead.
The crash happened amid heightened tension in the region, just hours after Iran launched ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American forces in response to an American drone strike that killed Iran’s top military general, Qasem Soleimani.
A statement from the military on Iranian state media said that the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target,” adding that forces were at the “highest level of readiness” at the time, according to the AP.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit,” according to the statement. The military apologized, said it was improving its systems to ensure a mistake like this couldn’t happen again and said the people responsible for firing the missiles would be prosecuted.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed the U.S. for Iran’s mistaken decision to shoot down the plane, tweeting: “Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster.”
He added: “Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.”
On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that intelligence from multiple sources showed the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile.
That assessment was echoed by officials in the U.S. and United Kingdom.
Three U.S. military and intelligence officials told TIME Thursday that they were confident the plane was unintentionally hit by two Iranian anti-aircraft missiles.
“All indications are that the passenger jet was hit by mistake, likely because the Iranian air defenses were on a state of high alert as they launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at U.S. facilities,” a U.S. official said.
Despite the assertions from western leaders, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Ali Abedzadeh, doubled down on his country’s denials on Friday, saying he was “certain” the plane was not struck by a missile.
On Thursday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) also announced that it would assist in the investigation at the request of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, which is leading the probe. Investigators from Ukraine and Canada (at least 63 Canadians were on board the plane, scheduled for a connecting flight to Toronto) are already involved.
Also on Thursday, Boeing said Iran’s civil aviation board had invited the company to look into the downing of the aircraft.
The planemaker said earlier that it was “ready to assist in any way needed.”
President Donald Trump dismissed Iran’s initial explanation that a mechanical error caused the crash while speaking at the White House earlier on Thursday, though he did not directly blame Iran for the crash.
“It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake,” Trump said. “Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
Ukrainian officials have said Thursday that they are considering a missile strike as one several possible causes of the crash. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had not ruled out a strike, the AP reported.
“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,” Danilov said, according to the AP. Iran has refuted the idea that a missile hit the plane, dismissing the accusation as “psychological warfare,” the AP reported.
Airlines including Qantas Airways, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Air are among the carriers that announced they would be rerouting their services away from the region after the missile salvo and crash. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had earlier said it was banning civilian aircraftfrom operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman amid Iran’s missile barrage into Iraq.
The plane, which crashed shortly after takeoff, was reportedly trying to return to the airport, but the crew had not sent out a call for help, according to an initial report released by Iranian authorities on Thursday.
Iranian officials have said the Boeing 737-800 crashed due to mechanical issues.
Initially, the Ukrainian embassy in Iran agreed, blaming engine failure for the crash, but officials later backed away from that statement and said they would refrain from naming the cause of the crash while the investigation continues.
The crash brings renewed attention to Boeing, which continues to deal with the fallout of two deadly crashes of a different 737 model, the 737 MAX, within the past two years.
Those incidents left 346 people dead, leading to worldwide grounding of the MAX.
Boeing fired its CEO in December amid the continuing controversy.
The aircraft departed from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran after being delayed for about an hour, according to the Associated Press. After taking off en route to Kiev, the plane did not go above 8,000 feet in the air, the AP reports, citing the flight-tracker FlightRadar24. A statement from Ukraine International Airlines confirms the aircraft ascended to 2,400 meters, just shy of 8,000 feet.
Culled from TIME