Ukraine sends investigative team to Iran after 176 die in plane crash
Airline doubts crew or Boeing 737 to blame as disaster strikes amid US-Iran crisis
Kiev is sending security and aviation officials to Iran to help investigate why a Boeing 737 belonging to Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran airport on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko said the passengers and crew included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Britons, three Germans and 11 Ukrainians. Almost all the passengers are believed to have been ethnic Iranians, many with dual citizenship.
Iranian media said technical trouble was thought to have brought down the Tehran-Kiev flight, and the Ukrainian embassy in Iran issued a similar message before deleting it and saying it had no official information on the cause of the disaster.
A Canadian security source told Reuters on Wednesday that the initial assessment of western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile. There was evidence one of the jet’s engines had overheated, the source said.
The plane took off at 06:12 local time and climbed to nearly 2,400m before suddenly vanishing from radar screens. Amateur video footage appeared to show the plane descending in flames and exploding on impact with the ground. Rescue crews found no survivors in the charred wreckage about 10km from Tehran airport.
The crash occurred hours after Iran fired rockets at bases used by US forces in neighbouring Iraq, in retaliation for a US drone strike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani last week.
There was no immediate suggestion of a link between the missile strikes and the air disaster, but the crisis in US-Iran relations is likely to complicate the crash investigation, with the head of Tehran’s civil aviation authority reportedly saying his country would not give the jet’s black box flight recorders to Boeing for analysis.
“I am in constant consultations with our foreign partners. Our priority is to find out the truth and who is responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who cut short a visit to Oman after the crash.
Officials from Ukraine’s defence ministry, domestic security service and interior ministry would fly to Tehran with diplomats, air safety experts and UIA representatives on Wednesday evening, he added.
“I am taking the whole operation under personal control. I strongly ask everyone to refrain from speculation and spreading unverified theories about the disaster until official statements are made,” Mr Zelenskiy said, while pledging that the air-worthiness of Ukraine’s entire civil aviation fleet would be checked.
Mr Prystaiko said on Twitter that he spoke to Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif: “Both expressed our condolences. Agreed to co-ordinate further actions of our investigation groups closely to determine the cause of the terrible plane crash.”
UIA’s relatively cheap flights via Kiev are popular with members of the Iranian diaspora travelling between Tehran and western Europe and North America.
François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s foreign minister, said: “Our hearts are with the loved ones of the victims, including many Canadians. I have been in touch with the government of Ukraine. We will continue to keep Canadians informed as the situation evolves.”
Mr Zelenskiy urgently convened Ukraine’s national security and defence council (SNBO) to discuss Kiev’s response to the disaster.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of the SNBO, said two people who checked in for the flight failed to board the plane.
“The names, who they are, the SNBO has that [information],” he added, without revealing their identity or nationality.
Both UIA and the Boeing 737-800 model involved in the crash have good safety records.
“It was one of our best aircraft with a wonderful, reliable crew,” said Yevhen Dykhne, the president of UIA, who explained that catastrophic pilot error was highly unlikely after the plane had climbed with no apparent problems after take-off.
The airline’s technical director Oleksandr Shafiev said: “The plane was built in 2016 and we received it straight from the Boeing factory . . . It had its last technical check on January 6th. No problems were noted. The plane was in good working order.”