Iran blames 'miscommunication' for downing of Ukrainian passenger jet

Tehran says problems with missile system, miscommunication were to blame for downing of passenger jet. Pilots not at fault, Iran admits.

Tags: Iran
David Rosenberg ,

Debris from plane crash near Tehran
Debris from plane crash near Tehran

An internal Iranian investigation into the downing of a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger plane earlier this year has found that the plane’s flight crew was not at fault in the incident, repudiating past claims by the Iranian military, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

In January, 176 people were killed when Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737-800 passenger plane, was shot down near Tehran shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini Airport by a missile launched by an Iranian military battery. There were no survivors.

Iran initially claimed the plane had crashed due to technical problems onboard the aircraft, but later admitted it had been downed by a surface-to-air missile.

A report released by Iranian investigators over the weekend found that the accidental downing of the plane was not the result of the plane flying in an irregular way or over a sensitive military area, as the Iranian military had previously claimed.

After admitting that the plane had been shot down, rather than crashing due to technical problems, Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh claimed the aircraft had strayed into airspace near a highly sensitive military site.

In the report, however, investigators stressed that Flight 752 had done nothing out of the ordinary prior to the missile launch.

“At the time of firing the first missile, the aircraft was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory,” the report said.

The plane likely suffered damage to its equipment, including its radio systems, from the first missile fired during the incident, which exploded near the plane just after take-off.

A second missile then struck the plane directly, the report says, destroying the aircraft, with debris scattered over a playground and farmland on the outskirts of the Iranian capital.

According to the report, Iranian forces were on high alert at the time of the missile launch, following an Iranian ballistic missile attack on American forces stationed in Iraq, days after the targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the US on January 3rd.

The missile battery which shot down Flight 752 had been relocated shortly before the incident, for reasons which were not explained in the report, leaving battery “misaligned” and improperly oriented.

The missile battery crew were unable to communicate with their command center, and after they misidentified Flight 752 as a threat – likely an incoming missile – they opened fire without approval from ranking Iranian officials, the report claims.

Iran has arrested six people allegedly involved in the shoot down.

The aircraft’s black box is slated to be shipped to France for an independent investigation on July 20th, following multiple delays by the Iranian government.