Iran plane crash: Ukraine Airlines jet slams into ground near Tehran, with no survivors

The Boeing 737-800 likely crashed due to technical difficulties, Iranian state media quoted Ali Kahshani, a senior public relations official at the airport, as saying. Ukraine’s embassy in Iran at first concurred, issuing a statement ruling out terrorism, but then took it down without explanation.

A later statement from the embassy said a commission is investigating the crash and that “any statements about the causes of the accident before the decision of the commission are not official.”

The flight operated by Ukraine International Airlines was headed for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport.

“No one has survived the crash of the Ukrainian Airlines plane, and we are collecting the bodies,” Pirhossein Koulivand, Iran’s chief of emergency services, told state television. “All emergency and rescue forces are present at the scene.”

Many of the passengers were Iranian. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry listed 176 victims, including 82 Iranians; 63 Canadians; 11 Ukrainians, including nine crew members; 10 Swedes; four Afghans; three Germans and three Britons. Iranian officials said more than 140 passengers were Iranians, suggesting that some may have had dual citizenship.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Facebook page that he is “personally involved in supervision over all measures to be taken.”

“I implore you all to refrain from speculating and making uncorroborated theories in relation to the plane crash before any official statements are made,” Zelensky said, adding that planes would be dispatched to Tehran to collect the victims’ bodies. He was on vacation in Oman, but cut short his trip to return to Kyiv.

In a briefing Wednesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk also called for avoiding speculation about the cause of the crash and said Ukraine will insist on maximum transparency in the investigation.

He also said that the government suspended all Ukrainian flights over Iranian airspace until “the reasons of the tragedy are determined.”

Boeing said on Twitter that it was “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said that both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were recovered, but that the latter was severely damaged.

“Although it is damaged, there is still a chance to retrieve the pilots’ conversations from it,” a spokesman for the organization, Hassan Rezaeifar, told state media.

The head organization, Abed Zadeh, said Iran would not send the recorders to the United States — as some countries do for assistance in data collection — and that the investigation would be led by Iran, the Mehr News Agency reported.

“It has not yet been decided where the [recorders] will go” for data extraction, Zadeh said.

He said the pilots “did not contact the control tower” before the crash. “We were not informed of any technical problem from the flight crew.”

The aircraft involved in Wednesday’s incident, a Boeing 737-800, was three years old and purchased from the manufacturer as new by Ukraine International Airlines, the carrier said in a statement. It had its last routine technical maintenance on Monday.

The jet reached an altitude of about 7,800 feet, the airline’s vice president for flight operations, Ihor Sosnovskyi, told a briefing, according to Interfax news agency.

The possibility of “a mistake made by the crew is minimal; we just don’t assume that,” he said. “Given their experience, it is very difficult to say that the crew may have done something wrong.”

Although the Boeing 737-800 has not been flagged for issues, the newer 737 Max was grounded worldwide last year after the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 10, the second fatal crash of a 737 Max in less than five months. In October 2018, a Lion Air flight crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing all aboard.

“This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers and their families,” said a statement from Boeing. “We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”

Wednesday’s crash coincided with Iranian forces launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles against two military bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are stationed, in response to an American airstrike that killed the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force. American passenger airliners have been banned from flying over Iran because of the risk that they could be mistaken for military aircraft.

Major international airlines — including the flagship carriers of France, Germany and the Netherlands — also either halted flights to Iraq and Iran or restricted aircraft from flying through both countries’ airspace.

Other commercial airlines also rerouted flights, including Australian carrier Qantas, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, the Associated Press reported.

A video circulating on Twitter that purported to be of the crash showed a distant light against a dark sky descending to the ground, followed by a burst of flames. Another video tweeted by Iran’s Tasnim News Agency showed parts of a plane scattered and on fire on the ground.

Images published by state media showed charred debris scattered across open fields and farm plots near the city of Parand, southwest of Tehran. Another showed remains wrapped in black bags lined up near the search area. The Sharif University of Technology in Tehran said that 13 of its students and alumni perished in the crash, most of them mechanical engineers or science students.

Airlines from the former Soviet Union have a checkered safety record. A passenger jet of the small Kazakh airline, Bek Air, with 98 people on board crashed shortly after takeoff near Almaty airport in Kazakhstan on Dec. 27, killing 12 people and injuring dozens. A plane operated by Russia’s Aeroflot made a fiery emergency landing in Moscow in May, resulting in 41 deaths, and in 2018, a Saratov Airlines plane crashed just outside Moscow, killing all 71 people on board.

Cunningham reported from Istanbul. Dadouch reported from Beirut. Paul Schemm in Dubai and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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