A Ukrainian plane crashed in Iran: What we know

Just a few hours after Iran launched an attack against US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, a Boeing passenger jet bound for Ukraine crashed shortly after it took off from Tehran. All 176 people on board — including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians — were killed.

Iran originally claimed the crash was not caused by any military action. However, by Saturday morning, Iranian officials admitted the plane was shot down after it “took the flying posture and altitude of an enemy target.”

Iranian officials called the act the result of “human error,” and President Hassan Rouhani apologized in a statement on Twitter, writing, “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.”

The admission followed Thursday reports by the US and Canada that their intelligence agencies had found a missile was responsible for the crash.

“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday afternoon. “The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. It may well have been unintentional.”

Trudeau declined to elaborate on the evidence, but said that these developments confirmed “the need to have an in-depth investigation into this matter.”

And shortly after Trudeau’s address, the New York Times published a video showing the airliner being hit by what appeared to be a missile.

Despite the statements by the US and Canada — as well as the Times’ release of the video — Iran continued to deny that a missile felled the plane. Iranian officials accused the US of “spreading lies.”

Now, however, the country’s leaders have reversed course, leading Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to demand the Iranian government “bring those responsible to justice, return of the bodies of the deceased, pay compensations, issue official apologies through diplomatic channels.”

Zelensky also said Ukrainians “expect that Iran assures its readiness to have a full and open investigation.”

Rouhani promised Saturday that these steps will be taken, writing in a statement, “Further investigation is needed to identify all the causes and roots of this tragedy and prosecute the perpetrators of this unforgivable mistake.”

The Iranian leader also promised military procedures would be changed “to make sure such a disaster is never repeated.”

Rescue teams work amid debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, Iran, on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board.
AFP via Getty Images

What we know

  • Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, a 3.5-year-old Boeing 737-800, departed Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport at 6:12 am local time after sitting on the runway for roughly an hour.
  • Two minutes after takeoff, a “fatal accident occurred to the aircraft,” according to the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine. The plane crashed in farmland near Shahedshahr, a town about 30 miles southwest of Tehran and about 10 miles northwest of the airport.
  • All 176 people — 167 passengers and nine crew members — on board died.
  • There were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians (two passengers and the nine crew members), 10 Swedish nationals, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals on board, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister. Ukraine International Airlines has published a list of the victims on its website.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky directed Ukrainian prosecutors to begin a criminal inquiry into the crash, and said he’s sending “a team of experts” to Iran to help with “the investigation, identification and repatriation of the bodies of Ukrainians killed in the plane crash.”
  • The plane’s “black box” (which records instrument readings and pilot conversations) has been recovered and is in Iran’s possession, but is said to be damaged. Trudeau said Thursday that Iran wants to keep it in Iran, but that Iranian officials have said they would share information with Ukrainian investigators. Iran has also invited the US National Transportation Safety Board to assist with the investigation.
  • The plane had last been routinely serviced on January 6, and there was no indication that anything was wrong before the plane took off, according to airline officials.
  • Ukrainian International Airlines has suspended its scheduled flights between Kyiv and Tehran “until further notice.”
  • Other airline carriers, including Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines, have followed suit, either cancelling or rerouting flights heading to or through Tehran, according to Reuters.
  • Iran has admitted it shot down the plane accidentally.

What we don’t know

  • When the airline carriers’ suspensions of flights to and through Tehran will be lifted

Updates to this article have ended — the latest on the crash and US-Iran relations can be found here.