The reason behind Ukrainian Boeing 737 crash that killed all of the 176 onboard the aircraft on Tuesday remains shrouded in mystery- was it a technical glitch or did Iran “accidently” shoot it down as claimed by the US and its allies?
The Ukraine International Airlines flight, PS752, crashed near Tehran minutes after take-off.
Turbulence in the Middle East reached unprecedented heights when a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in US drone strikes just outside Baghdad airport on January 3.
After Iran’s retaliatory missile attack on US airbases (Ain al-Asad, Erbil) in Iraq in the interim of January 7 & 8, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) establishing a no-fly zone for US aviators over Iran, Iraq, and waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. It cited possibility of civilian airplanes to be misidentified as military aircraft as the reason behind the restriction.
“Judging by the relatively small pieces seen dispersed widely over the well-defined debris field of the accident site, the airplane's impact with the earth was at high speed and with great force,” Les Abend, a Boeing 777 captain and an Aviation Analyst wrote for CNN.
“In other words, the aircraft didn't skid across the ground striking immovable barriers, i.e. trees, rocks, etc., in an apparent effort at emergency landing. It plunged dramatically and crashed,” he said, adding that this implied the pilot was “not in direct control of the plane.”
The New York Times shared a video showing a small explosion reportedly in the sky over Parand, the suburb where the Ukrainian airliner first stopped transmitting its signal. It was sent by internet-freedom researcher Nariman Gharib, who said he obtained it from another individual. He is said to have begun filming after he heard “some sort of shot fired.”
The airplane can be seen engulfed in flames while still in the air, in the said video, authenticity of which has not yet been confirmed. Les says it could be “an onboard electrical fire, an explosion from somewhere within the fuselage, an engine fire” or even a hit by “a heat-seeking missile.”
The other possible causes of the crash include a projectile fired by “Tor” missile system as claimed by several media reports, or collision with a drone.
Iran’s launch of its missiles kind of overlapped with the timing of the airplane crash. While the attacks began around 1.30am, the plane crashed around 6.14am. “There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Somewhat mirroring Trudeau’s view is the United States, with President Donald Trump saying "It's a tragic thing, but somebody could have made a mistake on the other side. It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood, and somebody could have made a mistake."
“Purely from the perspective of making a risk assessment for operations to Tehran, and Iran in general, however, we would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event, similar to MH17 — until there is clear evidence to the contrary,” OPS Group, an aviation risk management group, said in a statement.
Tehran has fervently rejected these allegations. The officials here stated that there was a mechanical issue and implied the timing was sheer coincidence.
"Some people say it was mechanical. I personally don't think that's even a question,” Trump added.
"All these reports are a psychological warfare against Iran ... all those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box," Iranian state TV quoted government spokesman Ali Rabiei said in a statement.