Iran Plane Shootdown: Victims’ Countries Demand Justice; Regime Explanation Raises Questions

By Patrick Goodenough | January 14, 2020 | 4:34am EST
Debris from the downed aircraft at the crash site near Tehran's international airport. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)
Debris from the downed aircraft at the crash site near Tehran's international airport. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

( – Representatives of five nations whose citizens were among those killed when Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down a Ukrainian plane are due to meet in London on Thursday to discuss possible legal action.

Reuters quoted Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, as saying during a visit to Singapore that the investigation into the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, and the question of compensation would also be discussed.

Prystaiko said Canada, Sweden, and Afghanistan would be represented at the meeting in Britain.

All 176 people onboard the Boeing 737 were killed after it was struck by an Iranian surface-to-air missile minutes after taking off from Tehran’s international airport. They include at least 57 Canadian nationals, 11 Ukrainians – including the nine-person crew – ten Swedes, four Britons, and four Afghans. More than 80 were Iranian dual nationals.

While Iranians angered by a perceived cover-up – seen in three days of denials before the admission of culpability – continue to protest against the regime, Ukrainian and UIA officials have reacted with contempt to IRGC claims that the aircraft had been mistaken for a U.S. cruise missile.

Some four hours before the plane took off, the IRGC had launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces, in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

The Iranian military said air defense crews were on the alert for possible U.S. reprisals.

In that context, it said, the Ukrainian plane had “approached a sensitive military center after a turn, positioning itself at the altitude and form of a hostile flight and was hit because of a human error.”

But an analysis by the Institute of Global Threats and Democracies Studies think tank raises questions about that explanation.

Over the period between the IRGC missile attack in Iraq and the takeoff of flight PS752, at least six other commercial flights took off from the Tehran airport, three bound for Turkey, and one each for Russia, Austria and Qatar.

The IGTCS noted data showing that most of those flights took the same post-takeoff flight path and the same height gain as had the Ukrainian aircraft. (The Qatar Airways flight was the exception, as its destination lay south of Tehran, while the other planes all headed towards the west/north-west.)

A makeshift memorial at Kyiv airport on Saturday, the day the Iranian regime admitted it shot down a Ukrainian aircraft, killing all 176 people onboard. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)
A makeshift memorial at Kyiv airport on Saturday, the day the Iranian regime admitted it shot down a Ukrainian aircraft, killing all 176 people onboard. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

The Iranian air defense personnel would therefore have seen five similar targets on the radar over that period, each following the same route, the think tank said.

“Thus, even under psychological stress, PS752 flight appearing on the radar could not come as unexpected and cause the inability to identify the target or perceive it as a cruise missile.”

At a press conference in Kyiv on Saturday – shortly after the Iranian admission – UIA president Yevhen Dykhne said there had been nothing different about the flight, which had taken off with the permission of air traffic control, complied with its instructions, and followed the same route as always. The crew received no warning, he said.

The airline’s vice president in charge of flight operations, Ihor Sosnovsky, said during the same briefing the Iranian authorities should have closed the airport at the time of its missile attack on Iraqi bases, saying it had been “completely irresponsible” for them not to have done so.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in an address to his nation Saturday vowed that “all perpetrators will be punished.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had also pledged to “pursue justice” in the matter, telling a vigil in Alberta on Saturday “We will not rest until there is justice and accountability.”

The European Aviation Safety Agency on Saturday recommended that, in the prevailing security climate, “overflight of Iran at all altitudes should be avoided until further notice, as a precautionary measure.” It continues to advise airlines not to fly over Iraq either.

U.S. air operators are prohibited from flying in the affected area, due to what the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) calls “heightened military activities and increased political tensions in the Middle East, which present an inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or mis-identification.”

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary, Ali Shamkhani, has denied that the regime had tried to cover up the cause of the crash.

“The announcement of the real cause of the Ukrainian plane crash took some time due to the necessity of examining all the possible theories, including possible enemy actions in jamming, hacking of systems, infiltration, and other related factors,” Iran’s Press TV quoted him as saying.


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