At 6:12 a.m., Kiev-bound, Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. Less than five minutes later, the Boeing 737-800 was a smoldering wreck. All 176 passengers and crew members perished. Among the dead were 82 Iranian citizens, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Brits and three Germans. Some of those on board had dual citizenship.
Almost immediately following the tragic incident, Iranian aviation authorities made two announcements. First, they declared that the plane crashed because one of the engines caught fire. Second, they said that they would not transfer the black boxes, which contain critical data, to Boeing officials, National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) officials or to any Americans. On Thursday morning, Iranian officials announced that they had retrieved the black boxes but that they were severely damaged, and data was missing.
There is ample reason to conclude that the Iranian authorities are lying through their teeth on this one and are engaged in a massive and pernicious cover-up. Preliminarily, all the evidence points to the fact that the plane was actually shot down by a Russian manufactured, Iranian anti-aircraft missile, though Iranian officials have dismissed this allegation as “scientifically impossible.”
There are a number of factors that have led experts to conclude that this was in fact the case. First, Iranian civil aviation authorities concluded rather hastily that engine failure led to the aircraft’s demise. Professional aircraft crash investigations are meticulous, painstaking and time consuming, taking weeks, months and sometimes years to draw definitive conclusions. Thus, the Iranian announcement coming just hours after the crash was not just reckless and irresponsible, it appeared to be calculated.
Second, the plane was relatively new, having been built in 2016 and was piloted by experienced pilots. It had also undergone recent successful maintenance checks. Moreover, the Boeing 737-800 has an excellent reputation of reliability.
Third, the Boeing 737-800 is a twin-engine aircraft. Even if, as the Iranians maintain, the plane suffered engine failure, it would still be capable of flying on one engine. Moreover, even if both engines failed, the plane would still be capable of gliding, as noted in an excellent piece by the New York’s Jeff Wise. However, emerging video of the moments before the aircraft struck the ground, show the plane plummeting in a ball of flame at a steep decline. The video is totally inconsistent with a single-engine failure.
Fourth, and perhaps most compelling is evidence brought to light by Iran analyst Babak Taghvaee. Taghvaee, who has cultivated excellent sources within Iran, has published photos on his twitter account of the remnants of an anti-aircraft missile found near the crash site. The photos were first circulated in Iranian social media. The missile has been identified as coming from a Russian TOR-M1 air defense system, known by its NATO designation as the SA-15 Gauntlet. Moreover, video has emerged showing what appears to be a missile striking a plane over Parand, a city adjacent to the airport. A bright flash in the sky is followed by a thundeous explosion seconds later.
Fifth, the plane crashed just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two bases in northern Iraq hosting U.S. military forces. Iranian air defense crews were on full alert and jittery. Poorly trained and scared air defense crewmen make for a dangerous combination, acting as a force multiplier for the increased likelihood of a friendly fire incident.
This theory is gaining traction among NTSB and intelligence officials. Peter Goelz, a former managing director of the NTSB said that investigators should consider an attack “at the top of their agenda.” A pentagon and a senior intelligence official informed Newsweek that they believed that the plane was shot down by the Iranians accidentally. Newsweek’s sources stated that satellites had detected two missile launches followed by evidence of an explosion.
Iranian government officials are notorious dissemblers, incapable of truth telling. As the days pass, we can expect more lies to emerge from the mullah mouthpieces and propaganda elements of the state. Nevertheless, the evidence lays within the wreckage. The longer they deny aviation officials access to the site and the black boxes, the more credible the theory of a shootdown becomes. Even if aviation officials are given access, they must be on guard for Iranian attempts to tamper with evidence. Allowing Iranian officials to secure the site is akin to the fox guarding the chickencoop.
Iran must be compelled by the international community to provide full access to the site of the crash and the evidence. If it fails to do so, Iranian airliners and maritime vessels should be barred from entering the airspace and territorial waters of the civilized world.