Soaring tensions between Iran and the United States are already complicating the investigation into what caused a Ukrainian passenger jet to crash on the outskirts of Tehran Thursday, killing all 176 people on board.
Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800, took off from Imam Khomeini airport, climbed to 2,400 meters (7,900 feet), before disappearing from radars and crashing in the southwest outskirts of Tehran. In footage circulated by the state-run Iranian media outlet ISNA, the jet appeared to be burning as it fell from the sky, before exploding on impact with the ground.
Iran says it has recovered both of the plane’s black boxes and launched its investigation into the cause of the crash. But already there are signs the hostile relations between Tehran and Washington will complicate the inquiry.
Under international rules, Iran is responsible for investigating the crash, while Ukraine, as the home country of the airline, the U.S., as the home country of the manufacturer, would also typically be involved. France, a base for engine maker CFM International, might also play a role.
But Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the country’s civil aviation authority, ruled out handing over the black box to either the U.S. or Boeing, while confirming Ukraine would be involved in the investigation.
Ukrainian officials added to the confusion surrounding the crash, after the country’s embassy in Tehran issued a statement ruling out a terror or rocket attack and blaming engine failure, before removing the claim and saying any previous comments were not official. Citing an embassy official, Reuters reported that Iranian officials had asked the embassy to rescind the statement.
Asked at a briefing in Kyiv whether the plane could have been downed by a missile, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until an investigation was conducted.
Iranian media reported that the crash was due to unspecified “technical problems,” with Abedzadeh saying terrorism had played no part in the crash. Qassem Biniaz, spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation authority, said a fire had broken out in one of the engines shortly after takeoff.
“Had the accident happened due to a missile strike, the plane would have exploded in the air,” he told Iran’s official news agency, IRNA.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the plane was carrying 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians, including all nine crew members, along with 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons. Iranian officials said 147 of the victims were Iranian, suggesting many of the victims were dual nationals.
Ukrainian officials said that two passengers who had bought tickets for the flight had not boarded the plane.
The plane, a 737-800, was less than four years old, and had had its most recent scheduled maintenance on Jan. 6.
The 737-800 is one of the world’s most widely-used commercial airliners, and doesn’t have the software issue linked to the crashes of two 737 MAX’s that led the manufacturer to ground that model in March. In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at an airport in Russia, killing 62 people onboard.
The crash is Ukraine International Airlines’ first since it was founded in 1992.
Cover: 08 January 2020, Iran, Shahedshahr: Rescue workers and forensic investigators inspect the bodies of victims of a Ukrainian plane crash. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran airport, killing all onboard. Photo by: Mahmoud Hosseini/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images