In Depth

Iran plane crash: Tehran denies shooting down Ukrainian passenger jet

Western intelligence suggests Russia-made missile may have been fired in error

Iran has denied claims that an Iranian missile brought down a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran this week, killing all 176 people on board.

US intelligence sources claim a satellite detected infrared “blips” of two missile launches, followed by another blip of an explosion, the BBC reports.

Echoing claims by US officials and Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, Boris Johnson yesterday said there was a “body of information” that indicated  Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was brought down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

“This may well have been unintentional,” the prime minister continued. “We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation.”

What happened?

Newsweek reports that the aircraft is believed to have been struck by a “Russia-built Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, known to Nato as Gauntlet”.

Data from flight-monitoring site FlightRadar24 shows that after taking off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning, the downed plane, operated by Ukraine International Airlines (UIA), “reached an altitude of 7,925ft before tracking suddenly ended after three minutes”, the Daily Mail reports.

The aircraft – a Boeing 737–800 – crashed between the towns of Parand and Shahriar, west of Tehran.

A video circulating on social media appears to show the moment that the missile hit the jet, reports The New York Times, which says the footage offers “new clues about the crash”. 

The plane appears to have caught fire but to have continued flying after being hit by the missile, turning back towards the airport before exploding in mid-air. 

The video footage has been geolocated to a residential area in Parand, a Tehran suburb near the airport, says investigative website Bellingcat

Reuters reports that the Iranian civil aviation organisation is refusing to hand over the black box from the plane to US maker Boeing.

Who was on board?

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed in a statement that 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, ten Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and four Britons were killed in the crash. 

Is the crash linked to the US-Iran crisis?

The timing of the disaster, just a few hours after Iran launched a missile attack against US military bases in Iraq, led to immediate suggestions that the two events could be linked. 

However, “two Pentagon officials assess that the incident was accidental”, says Newsweek, which reports that Iran’s anti-aircraft systems were likely to have been active following the country’s missile attack on US troops stationed in Iraq earlier that day.

The crash has not been linked to recent problems faced by the Boeing 737 Max-8, which has been grounded following two fatal crashes within the space of six months, in Indonesia and Ethiopia

And the reaction? 

The United States Central Command refused to comment on Newsweek’s report confirming the shooting down of the plane.

Following a call between British PM Johnson and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Downing Street spokesperson said there needs to be “a full credible and transparent investigation in what happened”, according to Sky News. 

Following the crash, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said: “We express our condolences. The Ukrainian authorities continue to investigate.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has posted a message on Facebook saying that he would cancel the rest of his current overseas trip, to Oman, and return to 

Kiev, CNN reports. “My sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of all passengers and crew members,” he added.

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