Iran Shot Down Ukraine Passenger Plane, Killing 176 People, Multiple Reports Confirm
Pentagon officials says Iranian anti-aircraft missiles downed plane, possibly 'by mistake'
Multiple reports have confirmed that Iranian missiles shot down the Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The airliner crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran's international airport, just hours after Iran launched missile strikes against American troops stationed at airbases in Iraq.
Iran attacked the Iraqi military bases in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian terrorist military leader Gen. Qasem Soleimani last week.
Pentagon officials reportedly told Fox News the Ukrainian plane was shot down by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile, possibly "by mistake."
Officials said U.S. intelligence increasingly points at the airliner being struck by a Russian-made missile after it was accidentally fired by Iranian defense systems.
It is believed the systems were likely activated in anticipation of retaliatory attacks against Iran for the missile strikes against US troops.
According to Newsweek, the plane is believed to have been hit by a Russia-built Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system.
Both the Ukrainian and Iranian embassies blamed mechanical failure, however, the Ukrainian embassy deleted its statement.
It is confirmed Iran knew the flight was destroyed not because of mechanical failure, but due to a failure in Iran’s anti-aircraft system.
“This information is based on U.S. intelligence, which sources say picked up signals of a radar being turned on,” said CBS News anchor Major Garrett.
"U.S. satellites also detected two missile launches which happened shortly before the plane exploded."
NEW: "CBS News has learned U.S. officials are confident that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in the hours after the Iranian missile attack on U.S. targets. 176 people were killed, including at least 63 Canadians." https://t.co/BLBUKzzbO6 pic.twitter.com/EHENM9HgqM— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) January 9, 2020
According to Newsweek, a Pentagon official and another U.S. senior intelligence official said the incident was accidental.
The revelation comes as Ukrainian investigators reportedly are awaiting permission from Iranian authorities Thursday to examine the crash site and look for missile fragments.
Iran has denied that a missile took down the Boeing 737 bound for Kiev, and its officials have blamed a technical malfunction for the aircraft’s demise.
"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," Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, told Ukrainian media.
The information Danilov was seemingly referring to are pictures that emerged online that were allegedly taken near the crash site and appear to show remnants of a rocket.
The images were posted on social media along with claims they were taken near where the Ukrainian International Airlines plane fell crashed and show a mysterious piece of debris.
Danilov also said other possible causes under consideration for Wednesday's downing included a drone or another flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or an engine malfunction causing an explosion.
However, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the plane was less than four years old.
Iran did not immediately respond to the Ukrainian remarks or the Pentagon's revelation.
Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, earlier denied a missile hit the airplane in comments reported Wednesday by the Fars news agency.
He dismissed the allegation as "psychological warfare" by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.
An initial report prepared by Iran's Civil Aviation Organization said Thursday that the plane’s crew never made a radio call for help and was trying to turn back for the airport when it went down.
The Ukrainian International Airlines flight took off at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday, after nearly an hour's delay at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran.
It gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both the report and flight-tracking data.
Then something went wrong, though “no radio messages were received from the pilot regarding unusual situations,” the report said.
In emergencies, pilots reach out to air-traffic controllers to warn them and to clear the runway for their arrival, though their first priority is to keep the aircraft flying.
Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above it, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the report said.
Flight-tracking data for the plane stopped before the crash, which occurred in the town of Shahedshahr to the northeast of the plane's last reported position.
The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.
But the report also confirmed that both of the “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory were lost.
It also said that investigators have initially ruled out laser or electromagnetic interference as causing the crash.
Oleksandr Zaporozhchenko, a mechanic with the Ukraine International Airlines in 2016-2018, said he knew one of the crew members of the plane and had never heard any complaints about the aircraft.
“It is one the most reliable planes out there,” Zaporozhchenko told The Associated Press.
The plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.
Many of the passengers were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada; they were making their way back to Toronto by way of Kiev after visiting with family during the winter break.