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What do we know about the Iran plane crash?

Ugen E. B

Jan. 09, 2020

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed shortly after taking off from the Iranian capital Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board.
The reason for the crash, involving one of the international airline industry's most widely used aircraft models, is still under investigation.
Iranian authorities have blamed technical issues, but the crash's timing - just hours after Iran launched missiles at US targets in Iraq - provoked speculation about other possible causes.
On Thursday media reports emerged, citing US intelligence officials, that there was evidence it had been shot down.
This is what we know so far.
An initial report was released by Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation on Thursday.
It said the Boeing 737-800 suffered a technical problem shortly after take-off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport and cited witnesses, including the crew of another passenger plane, that it was on fire prior to impact.
Authorities said they lost radar contact when the plane was at an altitude of about 8,000ft (2,400m), minutes after taking off at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT).
No radio distress call was made by the pilot, the report said.
"The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash," the Iranian aviation authority added.
Tom Burridge, the BBC's transport correspondent, said the rapid disappearance of tracking data suggested a catastrophic incident occurred.
Some aviation experts have cast doubt on claims, made shortly after the crash on Iranian state media, that the crash was likely to have been caused by an engine fire.
Commercial aircraft are designed to be able to withstand - in general - a failed engine and to land safety. Engine maker CFM described Wednesday's speculation over the crash as "premature".
The aircraft's "black boxes", which record flight data and sound within the cockpit, were recovered from the wreckage.
Iran's civil aviation chief, Ali Abedzadeh, told national media they would not hand over the devices to Boeing or to US authorities.
Ukraine International Airlines said the aircraft was manufactured in 2016 and last underwent scheduled maintenance on Monday.
Founded in 1992, the airline had never suffered a fatal accident before Wednesday.
Boeing said it was ready to assist in the investigation. Flight PS752 was a 737-800 aircraft, the most popular made by the manufacturer with almost 5,000 produced since its 1994 launch.
It is distinct from Boeing's newer 737 Max model, currently grounded over safety concerns, and does not have the automated system that is thought to have contributed to two deadly crashes involving the Max jets.
The 737-800 is generally considered to have a good safety record. Aviation Safety Network, a flight-safety tracking group, say Wednesday's crash is the eighth fatal incident involving the model.
Harro Ranter, the group's head, told the Wall Street Journal that pilot error was found as the likely cause in all but one of the previous accidents.
Each had spent between 7,600 and 12,000 hours of flight-time on the 737-800 prior to the crash, the airline said.
"Given the crew's experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance," Igor Sosnovsky, vice president of the airline, said.
Under international protocol, the country where a plane crashed usually leads the investigation.
As the aircraft was made in the US, officials including the country's National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), would typically participate in any inquiry but political tensions have cast doubt on this possibility.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the US "stands prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance".
Canada's foreign minister has also called his Iranian counterpart to stress Canada's desire to help the investigation.
A team of 45 Ukrainian experts arrived in Tehran on Thursday morning to assist Iranian authorities and help with the identification and repatriation of victims.
Oleksiy Danylov, head of Ukraine's national security council, said on Facebook that they wanted to examine all potential causes of the crash - including the possibility of foul play.
Suspicion of this was fuelled on Wednesday when a statement by Ukraine's Tehran embassy, initially citing engine failure for the crash, was retracted hours later.
On Thursday reports emerged in US media that Pentagon officials were confident that the aircraft was shot down.
Newsweek, citing Pentagon and Iraqi sources, said it was assessed the strike was probably accidental. CBS News then said US intelligence officials had picked up signals indicating a radar was turned on and two missiles launched.
Rumours of a missile attack were initially fuelled by images circulating online, purportedly from the crash site and nearby.
The photographs were purportedly taken in a residential area near to the crash site, but that information and the images have not in any way been verified.
Open source investigators from Bellingcat, who took an active role in probing the downing of flight MH17 in Ukraine, are among those cautiously looking into the claims and trying to geo-locate the images.
A spokesman for Iran's armed forces, Abolfazl Shekarchi, has strongly denied that military action was behind the crash - describing the allegations as "propaganda" and "ridiculous".
Mr Abedzadeh said that other domestic and foreign flights were airborne at the same time and said allegations of missile use "cannot be true".
"There is full collaboration among all military and non-military departments in Iran and at the time of the crash, tens of Iranian and foreign planes were flying over Iran's safe space," he said.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has also asked people to refrain from speculation regarding the crash and insisted "a thorough and independent investigation will be conducted in accordance with international law".
Security sources in a number of international intelligence agencies, citied anonymously, have told Reuters that their initial assessments support the assertion that the flight suffered some form of technical malfunction and was not brought down.
Nonetheless, a number of major international carriers, including Qantas and KLM, diverted flights away from the region's airspace following the crash.
One British Airways flight, bound for London from Mumbai, was suddenly diverted to Athens on Wednesday because of the unexpected route change.
The disruption, which some airlines have said will continue until further notice, is expected to lengthen many flight times.
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