UPDATE BELOW: Civil air disasters, such as the loss of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, often take months to understand, but in this case, the cause is becoming tragically obvious. The plane, a Boeing 737-800, went down shortly after takeoff just outside of Tehran, Iran, earlier this week, killing all 176 passengers and crew aboard. The cause, according to a number of intelligence analysts from the United States, Canada and Western Europe, was a missile mistakenly fired by Iranian air defenses at the civilian flight.
The accident took place amidst conflict between the United States and Iran after the drone strike killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani last week and Iran’s retaliation days later with missile strikes against U.S. bases in Iraq. The air disaster, in fact, appears to be only indirectly related to those tensions.
Within hours of the crash, Iran came out with a statement saying that the plane had crashed because of mechanical problems with the Boeing jet, a claim that might have been supported if the crew had made distress calls. But according to highly placed sources quoted in stories in a number of mainstream media reports, no such distress call was made. Moreover the flight, which some had claimed had turned back in order to return to Tehran due to the suspected mechanical problem, apparently did no such thing. It was flying on its normal flight path, headed to Kiev, Ukraine.
But as early as Wednesday, cell phone video shot from the ground several miles away came to light. The video, shot at night, shows a bright light moving across the sky, which was, in retrospect, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752. There was then a brief flash, which was likely the missile strike, followed a few seconds later by a huge fireball, which we now know was caused by the nearly fully fueled aircraft hitting the ground and exploding.
On Thursday the cause of the crash started to become clear when sources in U.S. and Canadian intelligence, referenced in news conferences by both countries’ heads of state, reported that they had detected a pair of missile launches just moments before the jet crashed.
In the aftermath of the crash, there was confusion, and there looks to be no let-up in that regard. Based on international convention, as the country where the plane crashed, Iran would lead the investigation, joined by the nations of the plane’s manufacturer, the United States, and the country where its operator is based, Ukraine. Iran, however, denies that the plane was struck by a missile. While it initially seemed unwilling to share the black box data with outside investigators, on Friday it said in a news conference that it would welcome outside investigators, though it didn’t detail that plan.
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And in separate televised comments on Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said or suggested that Iranian air defenses had accidentally shot down the plane, a theory, both leaders stated or implied, that’s backed by intelligence officials in the United States and elsewhere.
Presumably, the tragic, mistaken missile attack was due at least in part on Iran’s heightened state of alert following the Soleimani targeted killing by the United States and its own missile attack on American targets in Iraq.
Even after evidence of a rogue missile launch against the civilian airliner was made public, Iran continued to deny that the plane was taken down by one of its own weapons, claiming, according to a report in Business Insider, that it was “scientifically impossible” for that to have been the case, an argument that’s tenuous at best, considering that the surface-to-air missiles suspected in the shoot down of the plane were designed to do exactly what they’re suspected of doing.
UPDATE: Late on Friday, January 10, Iran admitted that it had indeed accidentally shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752. The admission came after numerous pieces of evidence of an accidental anti-aircraft missile launch had come to light. These included cellphone video footage that surface soon after the mishap that showed a bright flash moments before the Boeing 737-800 crashed and exploded. Soon thereafter evidence of missile fragments embedded in the wreckage of the downed jet were spotted in crash site photographs, as were the telltale signs of inward projectile puncturing of the jet’s outer skin, which could not be credibly explained by a mechanical failure. The accidental shoot down of the aircraft resulted in the deaths of all 176 passengers and crew aboard the 737.