Hours after the crash, Ukraine International Airlines officials had consistently ruled out pilot error or mechanical problems as the cause of the crash. They had said the Boeing 737-800, which was less than four years old, was helmed by some of the airline’s most experienced crew.
“We never thought for a second that our crew and our plane could have been the reason for this terrible, horrific aviation catastrophe,” the airline’s president, Yevhenii Dykhne, said in a Facebook post on Saturday after Iran’s admission. “These were our best young men and women. The best.”
In Kyiv on Saturday, officials from Ukraine International Airlines pushed back forcefully on the Iranian government’s assertion, even as it acknowledged shooting down the plane, that the pilots shared blame for flying off route. Iran should take full responsibility, they said.
“Even in the statement of Iran there is a hint that our crew was acting independently, or that it could act differently,” the airline’s director, Yevhenii Dykhne,said. “Unfortunately, we have to acknowledge that our plane was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This could have been any plane.”
The crew received had no warning before leaving Tehran, the officials said. The plane took off as Ukrainian flights from Iran had dozens of times before, and followed the same departure routes as airliners leaving that night, Igor Sosnovsky, the airline’s vice president for flight operations, told journalists. “There was no deviation from any routes that some are hinting at,” he added.
The crew maintained normal radio contact with the tower in Tehran, he said, and followed a standard departure procedure for the airport. After reaching an elevation of 6,000 feet, the pilots were instructed to make a slight northerly turn. In the last communication, he said, one pilot simply read back this instruction from the tower, saying, “Turn and climb.”
Addressing criticism that the airline should not have sent a plane to Iran at all, in light of tensions in the region, the officials said it was Iran’s responsibility to close airspace if it intended to fire missiles.