Ukrainian Plane Crashes Minutes After Takeoff From Tehran Airport, Hours After Missile Launch; Update: Iranians Refuse to Turn Over Black Boxes

 

A Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet, headed for Kiev, crashed minutes after takeoff from Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran early Wednesday morning. The airplane was carrying 176 passengers and all were killed.

Ukraine’s foreign minister reported there were “no Americans, three Britons, three Germans, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, 11 Ukrainians, 82 Iranians, and four Afghans” aboard the airplane. The rest were Iranian nationals. Ukrainian airport staff said many of the passengers had been Iranian students returning to school after the winter holiday.

Although the crash occurred hours after Iran began launching missiles at military bases in Iraq, “Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.” (Note: The 737-800 is an earlier version of the 737-MAX which has been in the news recently.)

However, a  Time Magazine article published at 7 am EST on Wednesday reported that Ukrainian officials initially agreed [that a mechanical issue caused the crash] “but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.”

The New York Times World reports that “Ukraine’s embassy in Iran initially ruled out terrorism or a rocket attack as a cause of the Boeing 737-800 crash on Wednesday. But that statement was taken offline, replaced by one that said it was too soon to draw any conclusions.”

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi, who lives near the crash site, spoke to the Associated Press. He said, “I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere. At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

Below is an unconfirmed video of the crash which has been circulating on the internet.

According to Fox News:

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said one of the plane’s engines caught fire, causing the pilot to lose control of the aircraft, sending it crashing to the ground. Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, added that it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight.

The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

Authorities later said they found the plane’s so-called “black boxes,” which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had been on a state visit to Oman when the crash occurred, offered his “sincere condolences to family and loved ones of all passengers and crew members.” He ended his Oman visit early and returned to Ukraine.

Zelensky has ordered a “sweeping inspection of all civil airplanes in the country, no matter the conclusions about the crash in Iran.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk issued a statement saying they were “preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” And Ukrainian parliament speaker Dmytro Razumkov wrote on Facebook that  “Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims.”

Updated 8:20 am: Reuters is reporting that Iranians refuse to turn over the black boxes to Boeing.

And an aviation analyst has two important points we should keep in mind.