Iran on Saturday acknowledged that a Ukraine International Airlines flight was shot down by its own missile due to a "human error" on Wednesday. It confirmed what several Western governments and spy agencies had initially suggested. However, Iran was in no hurry to admit the fault unless it was certain of its "unintentional" complicity.
On Wednesday morning, a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 NG took off from Iran's Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. Flight PS752 was bound for Ukraine's capital city Kyiv but lost contact two minutes after taking off. 167 passengers and nine crew members were on board.
Soon, it was reported by local media that the plane crashed outside Tehran. Videos circulating on social media showed the plane was ablaze moments before it crashed, something Western intelligence said was unintentionally brought down by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran. The country was on high alert following soaring tensions with the US.
Iran refuted the claims and attributed the crash to technical problems with the plane. Calling the reports ‘psychological warfare’ against Tehran, an Iranian government spokesperson said that all the countries, whose citizens were victims of the crash, and aircraft maker Boeing can send their representatives to join the process of investigation.
Iranian investigators said Thursday that the crew members of the plane never made a radio call for help and were trying to turn back to the airport when the plane went down. They said 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.
The report also confirmed that both of the so-called “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they had damaged and some parts of their memory were lost. Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran's civil aviation authority, said that Iran would not give the black box to Boeing.
Later in the day, reports in US media said that senior US defence officials think that the aircraft was downed by anti-aircraft missile systems around Tehran which were likely on high alert at the time of the crash as Iran feared retaliatory strikes from the US after it attacked the latter's bases in Iraq. Iran denied the reports, maintaining that it would be "scientifically impossible" because the plane was flying at 8,000 feet, which was "too high" for missiles.
On Friday, Iran's government repeated the assertion that missiles did not shoot down the plane. A government spokesperson called the idea Iran downed the plane a "big lie". Iran then reversed its position and said it would allow officials from the US, Ukraine, Canada, and France and planemaker Boeing to inspect the black boxes.
A military statement carried by state media early Saturday said that the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military center” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). “The military was at its highest level of readiness amid heightened tensions with the US. In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit.” It apologised for the disaster and said it would upgrade its systems to prevent such mistakes in the future. The responsible parties would be referred to a judicial department within the military and held accountably, the military said.
After a series of tweets by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani accepting blame for "unintentionally" shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner, the Iranian government has also released a lengthy statement calling the incident a "terrible catastrophe". The Iranian President in his statement has said that this "disastrous mistake" happened in an "atmosphere of threat" that was created by the "aggressive" American regime. However, he also stated that this is something that cannot be overlooked and the perpetrators of this incident would be prosecuted.
A senior Iranian airforce commander later took "full responsibility" for the missile attack that downed a Ukraine International flight on Wednesday and claimed 176 lives. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, Commander of Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), addressed the media in Tehran on Saturday and said he “wished he was dead” upon learning of the Ukrainian jet downing.
(With inputs from agencies)