- Mahmoud Hosseini/picture alliance via Getty Images
- The first report into the Ukraine International Airlines disaster in Iran found that the aircraft was on fire in the air before it crashed and had turned back toward the Tehran airport.
- Iran’s aviation authority released its preliminary report on Thursday, just one day after Ukrainian Flight 752 crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people on board.
- The report said the plane encountered a technical problem, but it did not specify what kind.
- Other Iranian authorities had blamed a technical problem in the hours after the crash but later walked back their statements.
- Speculation is mounting that something else may have happened to the plane amid military tension between the US and Iran. The airline has defended its plane, maintenance, and crew.
- The final investigation into the causes of the crash is likely to take many more months.
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The initial report into the crash of Ukraine International Airlines’ Flight 752 in Iran has concluded that the plane was on fire before it crashed and appeared to be trying to turn back to the airport as it plunged to the ground.
The report by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization into Wednesday’s crash said the jet encountered technical problems soon after it took off en route to Kyiv, Ukraine.
It did not elaborate on what sort of technical problem the plane may have suffered, but the idea that the plane was brought down by technical problems, rather than being shot down or facing another problem, is in line with those that had been released by Iranian authorities in the hours after the crash.
Some of those statements, however, have since been walked back.
The preliminary report was released Thursday, just one day after the crash, and is not intended as the final report into the disaster. Final reports into aviation disasters tend to take months, or even years, to be published.
Thursday’s report said the plane changed direction after encountering the unidentified technical problem and was facing the direction of the Tehran airport it had taken off from when it crashed, suggesting it was trying to go back.
Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the Civil Aviation Organization, said the plane did not make any distress calls.
- Mahmoud Hosseini/picture alliance via Getty Images
The Ukraine International Airlines plane, a Boeing 737 800-NG, crashed just minutes after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport. The airline has defended the plane’s maintenance, saying it had just been delivered in 2016 and was inspected just two days before the crash.
In a statement released Wednesday, the airline also pointed to the experience of the crew. Ukraine International Airlines said both pilots on the flight had a minimum of 7,600 hours of flight experience on Boeing 737 planes.
The report, which cited eyewitnesses on the ground, said Flight 752 created a massive explosion when it crashed. That was most likely because of the amount of fuel on the plane, which had just taken off, it added.
The report is in line with video footage that was shared by the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency on Wednesday, which appeared to show the plane on fire in the air before it hit the ground, filling the sky with flames.
The content of the video, which can be seen below, and its connection to this crash have not been verified.
نخستین ویدئو از سقوط هواپیمای اوکراینی اطراف شهریار pic.twitter.com/M3bZiLLryQ
— خبرگزاری ایسنا (@isna_farsi) January 8, 2020
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was Ukraine’s priority to find the cause of the crash, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed that Canada would work closely with its international partners to ensure the crash be “thoroughly investigated.”
Sixty-three of the people on board were Canadian citizens, Ukraine’s foreign minister said.
But their vows come with speculation mounting over the cause of the crash and with Iranian authorities walking back initial assertions that a technical fault was definitely to blame.
Speculation is rampant as to the cause of the crash, and the investigation may not be straightforward
Speculation has mounted as to what caused the crash, and the investigation is already showing signs of political friction.
Iranian authorities said in the hours after the crash that it was caused by technical problems, dismissing the idea that it could have been caused by a terrorist or military attack.
But Abedzadeh later told the Iranian news outlet Mehr that there was no evidence of technical problems, according to reporting by The New York Times. This was contradicted again by the report.
- SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
A representative for Iran’s military said the crash was not caused by Iranian military action. “They are spreading propaganda that the Ukrainian flight was targeted,” the person said. “This is ridiculous. Most of the passengers on this flight were our valued young Iranian men and women.”
Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran similarly dismissed the idea of terrorism or a rocket attack at first, blaming an engine failure instead, but later retracted that statement and said the cause was unknown and under investigation.
According to Reuters, the embassy said that the earlier statement was based on preliminary information but was not official and that Iranian authorities had asked the embassy to remove it.
- Foad Ashtari/picture alliance via Getty Images
Suspicion over what may have caused the crash has been heightened because of the increased tensions in Iran after the US assassinated its top general and Iran subsequently attacked bases housing US troops in Iraq.
Iran attacked two Iraqi military bases that housed US and coalition forces with ballistic missiles hours before the crash on Wednesday, but there is no evidence so far that the two incidents are linked.
Ukraine on Thursday said its investigators wanted to search the crash site for any debris that might have come from a Russian missile, Reuters reported.
Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the US’s National Transportation Safety Board, told The New York Times that investigators should not rule out an attack.
“All possible versions of what occurred must be examined,” Zelensky said on Facebook.
Iran, where the crash occurred, must mount an investigation under international law.
- Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
But such investigations also typically involve countries where many of the victims are from – in this case, Ukraine and Canada – as well as the plane’s manufacturer.
It said on Wednesday that it was “monitoring the developments” and was working with US agencies to “determine the best course of action.”
Boeing, one of the US’s biggest companies, may struggle to get involved.
Abedzadeh said the Civil Aviation Organization would not give the plane’s flight recorders to the company. He said the initial findings had been sent to the US, alongside other countries.
Sahar Esfandiari contributed reporting to this story
- Read more about the crash:
- Iran refuses to hand over the crashed Ukrainian Boeing 737’s black box to the embattled manufacturer