Iran plane crash: Ukraine refuses to rule out Boeing 737 was shot down by missile near Tehran killing 176

2020-01-08 09:17:58

Mohammad Zadeh
Mohammad Zadeh

Ukraine has refused to rule out that the plane that crashed in Iran and killed all 176 on board was struck by a missile. 

The foreign ministry in Kyiv confirmed that everyone aboard the Boeing 737-800 flown by Ukraine International Airlines was killed after it came down shortly after it departed from Imam Khomeini International Airport in the Iranian capital of Tehran. 

There were three British people on board, as well as citizens from six other countries, according to the Ukraine’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Vadym Prystaiko.

Asked at a briefing in Kyiv if the plane could have been downed by a missile, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk refused to rule it out, but cautioned against speculation until the investigation concluded.

Initially, Ukraine’s embassy in Iran said on Wednesday morning that engine failure caused the plane to crash and denied that it was terror-related or that a rocket had hit the aircraft.

But it later withdrew this statement, saying that anything was possible, and Mr Zelensky instructed Ukraine’s prosecutors to open criminal proceedings over the crash.

Video footage by Iran’s ISNA news agency purports to show the plane on fire in the seconds before it crashes into the ground, which is corroborated by Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, who said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight and witnesses said the pilot steered the plane towards a football field to avoid a residential area.

It is not clear whether the incident is related to Iran’s missile attacks on US bases in Iraq on Wednesday morning. 


Tributes to ‘lovely man with lovely smile’

Staff at a pet store have paid tribute to Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda-Zadeh, who ran a neighbouring dry cleaners and was one of the three Britons killed in a plane crash in Iran.

Staff at Hassocks Pet Centre, West Sussex, paid tribute to “a lovely man [with] a lovely smile”.

<span>Mohammad Zadeh</span>
Mohammad Zadeh

Store owner Stephen Edgington, 68, said: “Reza was a lovely guy. He was good looking, sociable.

“Before he left we were chatting and he said ‘do you realise I have been here so many years?’.”

Mr Edgington, who works at the store with his wife Nola, said they were told what had happened on Wednesday morning by Mr Kadkhoda-Zadeh’s staff.


Reservoir engineer one of three Britons killed

BP has confirmed one of those killed in the Tehran plane crash as reservoir engineer Sam Zokaei, who has worked at the oil company for more than 14 years.

Mr Zokaei, from Twickenham, London, was on holiday from working at BP’s site at Sunbury-on-Thames in Middlesex.

<span>Sam Zokaei</span>
Sam Zokaei

The company said in a statement: “With the deepest regret, we can confirm that one of our colleagues at BP, Sam Zokaei, was a passenger on the Ukrainian International Airlines plane that crashed in Iran this morning, reportedly with no survivors.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our friend and colleague, and all of our thoughts are with his family and friends.”


Briton killed was ‘brilliant engineer with bright future’

Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi was one of the three Britons killed. 

A spokesman for Imperial College London, where Engineer he was a post-graduate researcher, said: “We are deeply saddened at this tragic news.

“Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi was a brilliant engineer with a bright future.

<span>Saeed Tahmasebi</span>
Saeed Tahmasebi

“His contributions to systems engineering earned respect from everyone who dealt with him and will benefit society for years to come.

“He was a warm, humble and generous colleague, and close friend to many in our community.

“Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Saeed’s family, friends and colleagues, as well as all those affected by this tragedy.”


British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Qantas among slew of airlines avoiding Middle East airspace

British Airways rerouted flight 134 from Mumbai to Heathrow mid-way through the flight, to avoid crossing Iraqi airspace.

The plane flew in a circle and was then diverted to the Greek capital Athens for refuelling.

The move has left a number of Indian passport holders stuck in the terminal as they do not possess the right visa to leave the airport.

A number of commercial airlines have rerouted flights to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

Virgin Atlantic said they were “closely monitoring the situation” and were not flying over Iranian airspace. Due to changes in flight routing, their trips to and from Mumbai might now take longer than expected.

Australian carrier Qantas said it was altering its London to Perth, Australia routes to avoid Iran and Iraq airspace until further notice.

Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines have also rerouted planes to avoid Iranian airspace.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has barred American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace.


Iran plane crash analysis: What happened mid-air and who has the black box?

Our Industry Editor Alan Tovey has this piece of analysis on the doomed flight. 

In it, he looks at what happened during the last seconds of the Ukrainian International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kyiv, the reaction and what happens now. 

Read it in full here


Three Britons killed in Tehran plane crash named

The three Britons killed in a plane crash in Tehran have been unofficially identified as Mohammad Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, 40, Saeed Tahmasebi Khademsadi, 35, and Sam Zokaei, also 35.

Read Chief Reporter Robert Mendick‘s piece on the victims here


At a glance: The Boeing 737-800

The first thing to note about the crash of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 is that the aircraft was a Boeing 737-800, a different model to the 737 Max, the type which was grounded last year after two crashes in five months, reports Industry Editor Alan Tovey.

The 737-800 – part of Boeing’s 737 Next Generation (NG) family – does not have the “MCAS” control system fitted to the Max, and which is blamed for the two crashes. 

A modernised version of the 737 classic model dating from the 1960s, 737 NGs are one of the most popular airliners ever. 

More than 7,000 737 NGs, of which about 5,000 are the 800 model, are in service and the aircraft has a very good safety record. Prior to PS752, there had been nine accidents involving the aircraft type which have resulted in fatalities. 

<span>A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane taxis in front of the tower </span> <span>Credit: REX </span>
A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane taxis in front of the tower Credit: REX

One was the result of a mid-air collision, and all but one of the rest have been attributed to either weather problems, pilot error, maintenance issues or a combination of these factors. The final incident saw an engine failure which sent debris into the cabin, causing the aircraft to decompress. A passenger was partially sucked from the aircraft and later died from her injuries.

Overall, the 737 NG has a fatal crash rate of 0.06 fatalities per million flights according to data from Airsafe, making it one of the safest aircraft in service.

However, the 737 NG has not been without problems. In September Boeing ordered all 737 NGs with more than 30,000 flights to be checked after cracks were discovered in the “pickle fork” of a jet undergoing maintenance.

This component is one of the main attachment points for the wing and fuselage and should have a life of about 90,000 flights. Boeing said that about 5pc of the affected aircraft needed repairs.


Boris Johnson calls for de-escalation of Middle East crisis

Boris Johnson said he opposed any further escalation of violence and told MPs: “As far as we can tell there were no casualties last night sustained by the US and no British personnel were injured in the attacks.

“We are doing everything we can to protect UK interests in the region, with HMS Defender and HMS Montrose operating in an enhanced state of readiness to protect shipping in the Gulf.”

Mr Johnson said General Soleimani had the “blood of British troops on his hands”.

Answering a question from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn about the legality of the drone strike that killed the Iranian general, the PM said the US had the right to defend its bases.

“Clearly the strict issue of legality is not for the UK to determine since it was not our operation,” said the PM.

“But I think most reasonable people would accept that the United States has the right to protect its bases and its personnel.”

The PM said Gen Soleimani had supplied “improvised explosive devices to terrorists, which I’m afraid killed and maimed British troops”.

He added: “That man had the blood of British troops on his hands.”

Follow the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the decade here.


Ukrainian Prime Minister refuses to rule out plane was hit by missile

Asked at a briefing in Kyiv if the plane could have been downed by a missile, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of an investigation were known.

The timing of the crash has led to speculation it could have been linked to the offensive that saw rockets from Iran striking US targets overnight, hitting two Iraqi airbases where American and coalition forces are based.

The Iraqi military said it recorded a half hour bombardment between 1.45am and 2.15am local time (10.45am  – 11.15am GMT). 

The Ukraine Airlines 737 crashed at 6.15am local time in Tehran (2.45am GMT), at more than three hours after the last Iranian ballistic missile barrage ended.  


Recap: What happened in the air seconds before crash?

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines.

The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate. Authorities later said they found the plane’s so-called “black boxes,” which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.

“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”


Iran refuses to hand over black box from Ukrainian plane

Iran’s aviation authority said it would not hand over to Americans the recovered black boxes of a Boeing 737 that crashed Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

“We will not give the black boxes to the manufacturer (Boeing) and the Americans,” Iran Civil Aviation Organisation head Ali Abedzadeh said, quoted by Mehr news agency.


Met Police ‘extremely alert’ to impact of wider Middle East crisis

Police in the UK are monitoring the wider crisis in Iran and are “extremely alert” to any effect it may have on home soil, the country’s most senior officer has said.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick told LBC that head of UK counter-terror policing Neil Basu has been in discussions with the security agencies and government bodies about the crisis.

She told host Nick Ferrari: “It’s a very worrying time clearly and we have lots of people of Iranian and Iraqi heritage and the surrounding areas in London, so there’s lots for us to think about, lots for us to be alert to.

“What I can say is so far in London we have had no issues directly associated with this, there was one quite small protest.

“But of course we’re extremely alert to what this could possibly lead to, but it’s a very complex situation. At the moment there’s absolutely no impact on London.”

Dame Cressida, herself a former chief of counter-terrorism policing, said the force is “very adept” at measuring possible domestic threats linked to international events.

“Being the international city that we are, with the multiplicity of communities and also the threats that we have had to face over the years which change and morph all the time, we are very, very adept at seeing what’s happening around the world, reaching out into communities and looking at the possible threats and risks that might come,” she said.

“That’s what we’re doing on a day by day basis, and in response to this.”

The UK’s terror threat level remains at substantial, meaning an attack is likely.


Foreign Office ‘deeply saddened’ by loss of life in Iran plane crash

The Foreign Office has issued a statement on the Iran plane crash.


Chinese airline becomes latest to avoid Iran

China Southern – a Chinese airline – has cancelled an Urumqi to Tehran flight which was scheduled to depart on Wednesday. 


Map of where the plane came down

Flight data from the airport showed a Ukrainian 737-800 flown by Ukraine International Airlines took off on Wednesday morning, then stopped sending data about eight minutes later, according to tracking website FlightRadar24. 

Here is a look at where the plane came down in relation to the the airport and its scheduled destination – Kyiv.

It also tracks the plane’s altitude up to the moment it disappeared from the radar.  


Ukraine withdraws statement ruling out terror or rocket attack

Having initially said the plane crash was due to engine failure and not foul play, there is now a new statement on the Ukrainian embassy website.

It reads: “A commission is working to clarify the causes of the plane crash.  Any statements regarding the causes of the accident prior to the findings of the commission are not official.”

The earlier line ruling out terrorism or a rocket attack as possible causes have been removed.


Russia warns against ‘rushed theories’ on crash

Russia has offered its condolences and warned against “rushed theories” about the cause of the crash, Theo Merz reports. 

Senator Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Facebook: “A terrible crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Tehran. It looks like no one survived. Was it a technical malfunction? A mistake of the crew? A terror attack? Only an investigation will show and one must refrain from any rushed theories.”

He said the Russian embassy was working to clarify if there were any of its citizens on board.

“I would like to offer sincere condolences to all the families and loved ones of the deceased, whatever their nationality. We share the Ukrainian people’s grief.”

MP Leonid Slutskiy said on his Telegram messaging channel: “The reasons of the crash are yet to be assessed. The tragedy must not be used for political purposes – sinking to the level of groundless accusations against Tehran or anti-Iranian rhetoric.”


Ukrainian President instructs prosecutors to open criminal proceedings

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, said his government was working to understand the causes of the crash.

<span>Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky</span> <span>Credit: Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP </span>
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Credit: Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP

He has cut short a trip to Oman and returning to Kyiv and instructed Ukraine’s prosecutors to open criminal proceedings over the crash.

Mr Zelenskyy, in a statement on the president’s website, said he had ordered the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to open criminal proceedings over the UIA plane crash in Tehran.

He said: “An investigation commission should be set up of representatives of the civil and aviation agencies responsible for civil aviation. We have to work out all the possible versions.

“Regardless of the conclusions regarding the causes of the Iranian catastrophe, the airworthiness of the entire civilian fleet will be tested.

“I keep all measures on personal control. I very much ask everyone to refrain from speculation and putting forward untested versions of the disaster before the official announcements.”


Russia suspends flights over Iran and Iraq

As the tension in the Middle East heightens, Moscow has called off any flights that use the airspace over Iran and Iraq. 

A telegram from the Russia’s  Federal Air Transport Agency said: “In connection with the information on the existing risks to the security of international flights of civil aircraft before the subsequent notification, the Federal Air Transport Agency recommends not using the airspace over the territories of Iran, Iraq, the Persian and Oman gulfs for flights of civil aircraft of the Russian Federation, including transit flights.”

Air France has also suspended flights over the region.


‘Nothing wrong with plane’, says Ukrainian airline

Ukrainian International Airlines(UIA) has appeared to bite back at claims its plane came down because of engine failure. 

The airline said there was “nothing wrong” with its plane. 

<span>A Boeing 737-3E7 from Ukraine International Airlines lands in 2017</span> <span>Credit: Jack Guez/AFP </span>
A Boeing 737-3E7 from Ukraine International Airlines lands in 2017 Credit: Jack Guez/AFP

It is understood the plane that crashed just outside the Iranian capital last passed a planned technical service just two days ago on Jan 6.

President of UIA Yevgeny Dykhne told a press briefing: “The aircraft was in good condition… We guarantee the serviceability of our aircraft and the high qualification of our crews”


Kyiv confirms British citizens were on board flight

The Ukrainian Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Vadym Prystaiko has revealed the nationalities of those on board. 

He said Kyiv is aware of the “following information on the countries of origin of those killed in the crash”.

  • Iran – 82

  • Canada – 63

  • Ukraine – 2 + 9 (crew)

  • Sweden – 10

  • Afghanistan – 4

  • Germany – 3

  • United Kingdom – 3


Flights to Tehran ‘suspended indefinitely’ by Ukrainian airline

Ukraine International Airlines has suspended flights to Tehran indefinitely, according to Reuters. 


Boeing ‘aware of media reports’

Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the company was aware of media reports of a plane crash in Iran and was gathering more information.


Three British citizens on board, says local media

A local media outlet in the Ukraine claims there were British citizens on board. 

Obozrevatel, a popular news website in the country, said there were also 71 Canadians on board, quoting sources. 

  • Ukrainian citizens – 15

  • Iranian citizens – 71

  • Canadian citizens – 73

  • German citizens – 4

  • UK citizens – 3

  • Swedish citizens – 8

  • Afghan citizens – 6

The Foreign Office was not immediately available for comment and the figures from Obozrevatel have not been confirmed. 

But the Ukraine Security Council said there were 11 Ukrainians on board, including nine crew, according to Reuters. 


Iran plane crash, in pictures

<span>Debris is seen from the plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran</span> <span>Credit: Mohammad Nasiri/AP </span>
Debris is seen from the plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran Credit: Mohammad Nasiri/AP
<span>An aerial view of the crash site</span> <span>Credit: Rohhollah Vadati/AFP </span>
An aerial view of the crash site Credit: Rohhollah Vadati/AFP
<span>A side panel from the aircraft in a ditch</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
A side panel from the aircraft in a ditch Credit: AFP


Special flights on standby to take bodies back to Ukraine

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has special flights are on standby to take bodies back to Kyiv.

The planes will need permission from Iran. 


What we know so far

  1. Boeing 737 crashed eight minutes after taking off

  2. All 176 aboard killed, 167 passengers and nine crew

  3. Plane appeared to be on fire before it hit the ground

  4. Engine failure to blame, says Ukraine


Video: ‘Plane falls from the sky’

Ali Hashem, a BBC correspondent, tweeted a video which he claimed showed the plane falling through the air while aflame before crashing into the ground and exploding.


What type of plane was it?

The plane that came down this morning was a Boeing 737-800.

This is similar to but not the same as the 737 Max 8 aircraft, which has been grounded since two fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that have brought huge scrutiny to Boeing.

The 737-800 uses a different software system to that of the Max 8.

The Ukraine International Airlines jet that crashed this morning was believed to be less than four years old.

<span>Boeing's 737 Max 8 is grounded following fatal crashes</span> <span>Credit: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters </span>
Boeing’s 737 Max 8 is grounded following fatal crashes Credit: Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

The airline has not yet made a statement.


Rescuers sift through wreckage

Iranian officials and emergency crews are at the crash site in Tehran, investigating the cause of the crash earlier this morning. 

<span>The plane crashed about eight minutes after taking off</span> <span>Credit: Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA </span>
The plane crashed about eight minutes after taking off Credit: Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA



‘Impossible that anyone survived’

The head of Iran’s Red Crescent has said they do not expect survivors at the crash site. “Obviously it is impossible that passengers” on flight PS-752 are alive, he told Iranian state news.


‘176 people’ on board

Iranian state TV news are claiming that the flight had 176 people on board – 167 passengers and nine crew.


All passengers dead – Ukraine’s president

Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, has confirmed that all 170 passengers aboard the Boeing 737 in Tehran have been killed.

He offered condolences to the families of the victims and said his government was working to understand the causes of the crash.

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