The head of the Iranian team investigating the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines plane near Tehran has rejected Western assertions that the aircraft was shot down by a missile.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had seen intelligence from “multiple sources” indicating that “the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile” shortly after it took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport on Tuesday, hours after Iran had launched a volley of ballistic missiles at U.S. military targets in neighbouring Iraq. Mr. Trudeau said the shooting-down of UIA Flight 752 “may well have been unintentional.”
The U.S. and British governments have reached a similar conclusion about the disaster, which killed all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians.
On Friday, Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority, called on Western governments to make their evidence public.
“If they have the courage, if they have findings with scientific support, they should show this to the world,” he said at a press conference in Tehran. “One thing I can tell you is the plane was not hit by a missile.”
He said videos posted online that appeared to show the plane being struck by another fast-moving object rising from the ground “cannot be confirmed from a scientific perspective.” He said officials from countries that lost citizens in the crash would be invited “to come and see how we are conducting the investigations.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also called on Canada and other governments to share their intelligence about the disaster. “The missile version is not being ruled out, but it is yet to be confirmed,” Mr. Zelensky said in a social media post on Friday. “Given the recent statements by world leaders in media, we call on all international partners – notably the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom – to share with the crash investigation team data and evidence concerning the crash.”
There are questions of whether evidence at the site will be available to international investigators. CBS News reported Friday that its team visited the site briefly, and found very little debris was left from Wednesday’s crash, and people — “not officials but apparent scavengers” — were poring over the scene looking for pieces to take away.
The Reuters news agency has cited an U.S. unnamed official who, referring to an extensive review of satellite data, said the flight had been tracked by Iranian radar before it came under attack. The data showed the Boeing 737 bound for Kyiv was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected, the official said. That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane. Heat signature data then showed the plane on fire as it went down.
Mr. Trudeau said the evidence was “clear enough for me to share … with Canadians right now.”
However, Mr. Abedzadeh said the aircraft had been on fire for more than 90 seconds before it crashed, and that the pilot had been trying to return to Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport when the plane went down.
“If it was targeted by a missile, the aircraft cannot [keep flying] in the air,” he said.
Mr. Abedzadeh said any conclusions reached before the plane’s black boxes are analyzed “would not be valid.”
“The data of the black box must be analyzed before giving any comments.”
Mr. Abedzadeh said the black boxes, which record flight data as well as cockpit conversations, were damaged in the disaster, but it was still possible to analyze the data they contained.
Iran had previously said it will not hand over the black boxes, but Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the committee that oversees aviation accidents in Iran, said Friday that his country would need foreign help to extract the data. He said the country could ask for help from Russia, France, Ukraine or Canada.
“I wish to announce that we prefer to extract the data and download the data inside the country, because we have the software and the specialists, but if we come to the conclusion that the data may be damaged, then we’ll decide to carry out the process in one of the said four countries,” Mr. Rezaeifar said.
Mr. Abedzadeh said officials from all the countries who lost citizens in the crash – as well as officials from the U.S. and France, as the countries of origin for the Boeing plane and its engine – would be invited to “oversee” the Iranian investigation.
“We allow Americans, French, Canadians, Swedish and Ukrainians, we have allowed them to come and see how we are conducting the investigations,” he said. “This shows that we have acted honestly in our performance.”
On Thursday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, the government agency responsible for investigating air accidents, said that it’s making plans to send officials to the crash site.
Mr. Abedzadeh said a full investigation into what happened to PS752 might take one or two years.
The Globe and Mail, January 9, 2020