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US officials: “Highly likely” Iran shot down Ukrainian airline


WASHINGTON: Two U.S. officials said Thursday that it was “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile shot down a Ukrainian aircraft late on Tuesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The accident came just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a clash with Washington over the US drone strike that killed a General of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard last week. Officials, citing U.S. intelligence, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. They had no immediate information about the intent.
President Donald Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible and would not directly blame Iran, but dismissed his claims that it was a mechanical problem and denied any U.S. responsibility.”
“Someone could have made a mistake on the other side,” Trump said, noting that the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”
“Some people say it was mechanical, I personally don’t think it’s a question,” Trump said, adding that “something very terrible happened.”
The crew of a Ukrainian plane that crashed in Iran, killing the 176 people on board, never made a radio call for help and was trying to reverse for the airport when the burning plane sank, a report of investigation Iranian initial ion. Ukraine, for its part, said it regarded a missile attack as one of several possible theories for the accident, despite Iran’s denials.
The Iranian report suggests that a sudden emergency hit the Boeing 737 operated by the Ukrainian international airline early on Wednesday morning, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
However, researchers from the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran did not provide an immediate explanation for the disaster. Iranian officials initially blamed a technical malfunction of the accident, something initially backed by Ukrainian officials before they said they would not speculate amid an ongoing investigation.
The accident came just hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a clash with Washington for killing a Guard general Iranian revolutionary in a drone strike last week.
The Ukrainian international airline took off at 6:12 am on Wednesday, after almost an hour’s delay at Tehran’s Imam Jomeini Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran. It gained altitude to the west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to the report and flight tracking data.
Then something went wrong, although “no radio messages were received from the pilot regarding unusual situations,’ the report said. In emergencies, pilots approach air traffic controllers to warn them and clear the runway for arrival, although their first priority is to keep the plane flying.
Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing over it, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 am, the report said. Flight tracking data for the plane was stopped before the crash, which occurred in the town of Shahedshahr northeast of the last reported position of the aircraft. That’s the wrong direction of the flight plan, reinforcing the report’s claim that the pilots tried to return the plane to the airport.
The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, probably because the plane had been fully fueled for the flight to Kiev, Ukraine.
The report also confirmed that the two so-called “black boxes” containing data and communications from the aircraft’s cockpit had been recovered, although they were damaged and some parts of their memory were lost. He also said the researchers have initially ruled out laser or electromagnetic interference as causing the accident.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several theories of work on the accident, including a missile attack.
“A missile attack, possibly a Tor missile system, is one of the main (theories), as information has appeared on the Internet about the elements of a missile near the crash site,” Danilov said. He didn’t detail where he saw the information on the Internet.
Ukrainian investigators who arrived in Iran on Thursday are currently awaiting permission from The Iranian authorities to examine the crash site and search for missile fragments, Danilov said.
The Tor is a Russian-made missile system. Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran in 2007 as part of a $700 million contract signed in December 2005. Iran has also displayed the missiles in military parades.
Iran did not immediately respond to Ukrainian comments. However, General Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, denied that a missile hit the plane in comments reported Wednesday by the semi-official news agency Fars. He dismissed the accusation as a “psychological war” by Iranian opposition groups based abroad.
Ukraine has a grim history of missile strikes, including in July 2014, when one such attack shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, killing the 298 people on board.
Danilov also said other possible causes under consideration included a drone or other flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or engine malfunction causing an explosion. However, no terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the plane was only 3 years old.
Oleksandr Zaporozhchenko, a mechanic at Ukraine International Airlines in 2016-2018, said he knew one of the plane’s crew members and had never heard any complaints about the plane.
“It’s one of the most reliable planes out there,” Zaporozhchenko told The Associated Press.
The aircraft’s engine manufacturer, the French firm CFM, declined to comment. French air accident investigators have not been asked to participate in the investigation so far.
The aircraft carried 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 via Kiev after visiting the family during the winter break.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he planned to call Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the accident and the investigation.
“Without a doubt, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash,”” Zelenskiy said. ”Surely we will discover the truth.”
The accident was among the worst life losses for Canadians in an aviation disaster. The flag over Parliament in Ottawa was reduced by half-staff, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to get to the bottom of the disaster.
While the cause of the tragedy remained unknown, the disaster could further damage Boeing’s reputation, which has been hit by the furore by two fatal crashes involving a different model of the Boeing aircraft, the much newer 737 Max, which has been nearly 10 Months. The uproar led to the company’s CEO’s firing last month.
Boeing extended its condolences to the victims’ families and said it is willing to help. However, it remains unclear whether Iran will allow it amid tensions with Washington, given that Boeing is a U.S.-based company.

Times of India