Iran downed Ukrainian jetliner, US, Canadian officials say

Evidence indicates it is “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran late Tuesday, U.S. and Canadian officials said Thursday.

News 12 Staff

Jan 9, 2020, 5:26 PM

Updated 1,602 days ago

Share:

By LOLITA C. BALDOR and ZEKE MILLER
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - Evidence indicates it is “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran late Tuesday, U.S. and Canadian officials said Thursday. They said the strike, which killed all 176 people on board, could well have been a mistake amid intentional airstrikes and high tensions throughout the region.
The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general. Four U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence, said they had no certain knowledge of Iranian intent and the airliner could have been mistaken for a threat.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in a Thursday press conference in Toronto: "We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
Earlier Thursday, President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for the shootdown but wouldn't directly blame the Iranians. He dismissed Iran's initial claim that it was a mechanical issue.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side." Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood."
“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don't think that's even a question.”
The U.S. officials wouldn’t say what intelligence they had that pointed to an Iranian missile. But they acknowledged the existence of satellites and other sensors in the region, as well as the likelihood of communication interceptions and other similar intelligence.
Two additional U.S. officials said the intelligence pointing to likely Iranian responsibility became clearer overnight into Thursday.
It was not immediately clear how the U.S. and its allies would react to the downing of the airliner. At least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians were among the dead.
Despite efforts by Washington and Tehran to step back from the brink of possible war, the region remained on edge after the killing of the Iranian general and Iran's retaliatory missile strikes. U.S. troops were on high-alert.
The latest assessment comes just a day after Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said they hadn't had a chance to review the intelligence on the incident. Both spent much of the day at the White House and on Capitol Hill briefing the administration on on the killing of Soleimani and the resulting attacks by Iran.
A preliminary Iranian investigative report released Thursday said that the airliner pilots never made a radio call for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when the burning plane went down. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it considered a missile strike as one of several possible theories for the crash, despite Iran's early denials.
The Iranian report suggests that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines late Tuesday, when it crashed, just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
Investigators from Iran's Civil Aviation Organization offered no immediate explanation for the disaster, however. Iranian officials initially blamed a technical malfunction for the crash, something backed by Ukrainian officials before they said they wouldn't speculate amid an ongoing investigation.
Before the U.S. assessment, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the of civil aviation accident investigation commission, claiming that "the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft system is ruled out.”
The Ukrainian International Airlines took off at 6:12 a.m. Wednesday, Tehran time, after nearly an hour's delay at Tehran's Imam Khomeini Airport, the main airport for travelers in Iran. It gained altitude heading west, reaching nearly 8,000 feet, according to both the report and flight-tracking data.
Then something went wrong, though “no radio messages were received from the pilot regarding unusual situations,” the report said. In emergencies, pilots reach out to air-traffic controllers to warn them and to clear the runway for their arrival, though their first priority is to keep the aircraft flying.
Eyewitnesses, including the crew of another flight passing above, described seeing the plane engulfed in flames before crashing at 6:18 a.m., the report said. The crash caused a massive explosion when the plane hit the ground, likely because the aircraft had been fully loaded with fuel for the flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.
The report also confirmed that both of the “black boxes” that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane had been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory was lost.
Hours before the plane crash the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had issued an emergency flight restriction barring U.S. carriers and pilots from flying over areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace warning of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” for civilian aircraft due to heightened political and military tensions.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's Security Council, told Ukrainian media that officials had several working theories regarding the crash, including a missile strike.
"A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash," Danilov said. He did not elaborate on where he saw the information on the internet.
Ukrainian investigators that arrived in Iran earlier on Thursday currently await permission from Iranian authorities to examine the crash site and look for missile fragments, Danilov said.
The Tor is a Russian-made missile system. Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran in 2007 as part of a $700 million contract signed in December 2005. Iran has displayed the missiles in military parades as well.
Iran did not immediately respond to the Ukrainian comments. However, Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, the spokesman of the Iranian armed forces, denied a missile hit the airplane in a comments reported Wednesday by the semiofficial Fars news agency. He dismissed the allegation as "psychological warfare" by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.
Ukraine has a grim history with missile attacks, including in July 2014 when one such strike downed a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.
Danilov also said other possible causes under consideration included a drone or another flying object crashing into the plane, a terrorist attack or an engine malfunction causing an explosion. However, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the attack and the plane was only 3½ years old.
The plane was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. Many of the passengers were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada; they were making their way back to Toronto by way of Kyiv after visiting with family during the winter break.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he planned to call Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the crash and the investigation.
“Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash,” Zelenskiy said. “We will surely find out the truth.”
The crash ranked among the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster. The flag over Parliament in Ottawa was lowered to half-staff, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to get to the bottom of the disaster.
The British government said Thursday it is investigating “very concerning” reports about the crash.
The U.S. accident investigator, the National Transportation Safety Board, is talking to the State Department and the Treasury Department about traveling to Iran to inspect the U.S.-built aircraft and working with Iranian authorities despite U.S. economic sanctions against that country. Federal officials are concerned about sending employees to Iran because of the heightened tensions.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


More from News 12
2:07
Monmouth County police patrols to crack down on distracted driving

Monmouth County police patrols to crack down on distracted driving

1:33
Stormy weather lingers into Thursday morning; sun returns for afternoon

Stormy weather lingers into Thursday morning; sun returns for afternoon

2:08
‘We can’t wait for a catastrophe.’ Officials call for greater consequences for rowdy teens after Jersey Shore unrest

‘We can’t wait for a catastrophe.’ Officials call for greater consequences for rowdy teens after Jersey Shore unrest

2:22
Newark high school students earn 60 college credits early as part of dual enrollment program

Newark high school students earn 60 college credits early as part of dual enrollment program

0:31
Prosecutor: Man accused of trying to rob 2 gas stations, grocery store arrested in Virginia

Prosecutor: Man accused of trying to rob 2 gas stations, grocery store arrested in Virginia

0:50
Jersey Proud: Seton Hall pep band director to retire after nearly 40 years

Jersey Proud: Seton Hall pep band director to retire after nearly 40 years

2:09
Menendez bribery trial: Jurors see texts sent between senator and wife regarding Egyptian military aid

Menendez bribery trial: Jurors see texts sent between senator and wife regarding Egyptian military aid

2:15
Officials announce multimillion-dollar project to help improve Port of New York and New Jersey

Officials announce multimillion-dollar project to help improve Port of New York and New Jersey

0:23
Route 71 Bridge connecting Belmar to Avon-by-the-Sea to reopen Friday

Route 71 Bridge connecting Belmar to Avon-by-the-Sea to reopen Friday

1:56
New Jersey marks first day of early voting for presidential primary

New Jersey marks first day of early voting for presidential primary

0:29
Charges against world’s top golfer Scottie Scheffler dropped after arrest outside PGA Championship

Charges against world’s top golfer Scottie Scheffler dropped after arrest outside PGA Championship

0:23
Police: Ex-owner of Morley’s Magic Theater in Butler accused of possessing child sex abuse materials

Police: Ex-owner of Morley’s Magic Theater in Butler accused of possessing child sex abuse materials

0:24
Police: Woman wanted for questioning in Newark shooting

Police: Woman wanted for questioning in Newark shooting

0:52
Strikes loom at 3 New Jersey hospitals as union fights for better staff-to-patient ratios

Strikes loom at 3 New Jersey hospitals as union fights for better staff-to-patient ratios

0:26
$83 million grant to renovate Brick Church Station in East Orange

$83 million grant to renovate Brick Church Station in East Orange

0:20
Police: Suspect wanted for stealing packages from Tinton Falls residence

Police: Suspect wanted for stealing packages from Tinton Falls residence

1:32
Father’s Day Gift Ideas: Exclusive Deals – Up to 50% OFF!

Father’s Day Gift Ideas: Exclusive Deals – Up to 50% OFF!

0:20
Police: Loaded gun found in man’s carry-on bag at Newark Airport

Police: Loaded gun found in man’s carry-on bag at Newark Airport

2:20
Activists hold rally in opposition to NJ Turnpike expansion project in Hudson County

Activists hold rally in opposition to NJ Turnpike expansion project in Hudson County

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!

Is your dad awesome? New Jersey tell us why your dad rocks!