Iranian Missile Accidentally Brought Down Ukrainian Jet, Officials Say


WASHINGTON — American and allied officials said on Thursday that they had intelligence that missiles fired by Iranian military forces were responsible for the downing of a Ukrainian jetliner and the deaths of all aboard this week in Iran, most likely by accident.

The disclosures suggested that the deaths were a consequence of the heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that have played out since an American drone strike killed a top Iranian general last week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, citing a preliminary review of the evidence, called for a full investigation “to be convinced beyond all doubt.” The jetliner was carrying 63 Canadians among its some 176 passengers and crew.

“We recognize that this may have been done accidentally,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa. “The evidence suggests very clearly a possible and probable cause for the crash.”

President Trump, speaking earlier at the White House, said only that he suspected that the downing of the plane was the result of “a mistake on the other side.” Senior American officials were more forthcoming, saying that they had a high level of confidence in their findings. American intelligence agencies determined that a Russian-made Iranian air defense system fired two surface-to-air missiles at the plane, one official said.

And video verified by The New York Times appeared to show an Iranian missile exploding near a plane above Parand, near Tehran’s airport, the area where the jetliner, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, stopped transmitting its signal before it crashed.

Those aboard the plane most likely faced horrifying final moments, starting with an explosion as the missiles detonated just outside it, sending shrapnel and debris spiraling through the fuselage. The plane turned back toward the airport, then began its uncontrolled descent toward the ground.

American satellites, designed to track missile launches, detected the firing of the Iranian short-range interceptor. United States intelligence agencies later picked up Iranian communications confirming that the system brought down the Ukrainian airliner, officials said.

An initial Iranian report released on Thursday said that the plane, bound for the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was in flames before it hit the ground but sent no distress signal. A security camera captured its impact: first the predawn darkness, then a series of blinding bursts of light in the distance, followed by a storm of burning debris in the foreground.

In addition to denying responsibility, Iran invited the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States to assist in the investigation despite previous reports that the Americans would not be involved, according to correspondence reviewed by The Times. The board assigned an investigator to the crash, a spokesman said on Thursday evening.

Iranian authorities recovered the plane’s “black box” flight data recorders, but they were damaged by the crash and fire, the Iranian report said. That raised the possibility that some of the information stored in them electronically had been destroyed, but investigators can retrieve useful data even from damaged recorders.

His reluctance to assign blame may be an attempt to avoid inflaming tensions at a time when both governments were taking steps to de-escalate the military confrontation of recent days. The revelations about the intelligence prompted accusations that the American military’s killing of General Suleimani set off a chain of events that led to Iran accidentally downing the jet.

“This is the responsibility of the Iranians,” said Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “But the context was a situation in which they were preparing themselves for a possible attack by the United States. This might not have happened two or three weeks ago.”

The crash in Iran also came at a difficult time for Boeing. The 737 Max, a new version of the 737 that was downed in Iran, has been grounded for 10 months after two deadly crashes caused in part by new software on the plane.

The crisis is consuming Boeing, which ousted its chief executive late last year and is temporarily shutting down the factory that makes the Max this month. Had investigators found that mechanical problems caused the crash in Iran, it could have raised new questions about the safety of the company’s aircraft. On Wednesday, before the cause was determined, Boeing’s interim chief executive, Greg Smith, sent an email to employees expressing condolences for the victims and pledging to cooperate with investigators.

“The safety of our people, products and services, and all those who fly on what we build, is of the greatest importance to all of us at Boeing,” he wrote, according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Times. “Thank you for your ongoing focus on our values, including safety, quality and integrity.”

At Boryspil International Airport near Kyiv, where Flight 752 had been due to land, grieving flight attendants tended to candles set on the floor in front of a makeshift memorial to the nine crew members who died.

A flight attendant named Tatyana, who declined to give her last name because she was not authorized to speak to the news media, said she visited the memorial on Wednesday evening to pay her respects.

“Of course there were concerns, risks to those flights,” she said. “We took this responsibility upon ourselves when we joined the airline — to be ready for anything to happen.”

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, Anton Troianovski from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Natalie Kitroeff from New York. Reporting was contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Washington, Andrew E. Kramer from Moscow, Maria Varenikova from Kyiv, David Gelles and Farnaz Fassihi from New York and Dan Bilefsky from Montreal.



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