Investigators from Ukraine concluded Thursday that a commercial airliner that crashed early Wednesday after taking off in Tehran could not possibly have experienced an engine fire, which is Iran’s official explanation for the fatal tragedy.
The assessment, published in Ukrainian media, appeared shortly after anonymous reports in American media suggested that U.S. officials believe it is possible a Russian Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile took down the plane. The Ukrainian security council had posited this as a “main” theory on Wednesday.
Iran published a report on its investigation of the crash site Wednesday, blaming the fire on mechanical failure and claiming black box footage had been damaged and partially unrecoverable in the crash. Tehran has refused to hand over the black boxes to Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737–800, crashed in a burst of flames near Tehran’s international airport as news surfaced of over a dozen ballistic missiles flying out of Iran towards Iraqi military bases housing American troops. The barrage, which caused no property damage or known casualties, was meant as a response to the U.S. airstrike against Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani last week.
“Currently, I am observing both aircraft engines – and I don’t see any traces of fire on them. Fragments of the right wing were brought here, too – there are also no traces of fire on them, so the version of engine malfunction, engine explosion, can’t be confirmed at the moment,” an unnamed source of the investigative team told Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, according to the Ukrainian news agency UNIAN. “The plane was on fire, but the version of engine malfunction is not being confirmed.”
The American online publication Newsweek published another anonymously sourced report claiming that American officials also do not believe a spontaneous fire was responsible for the crash.
“The aircraft is believed to have been struck by a Russia-built Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, known to NATO as Gauntlet, the three officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, told Newsweek,” the outlet alleged. One of the three officials is allegedly a member of the Iraqi government. The two Americans reportedly claimed that evidence suggested the Iranians accidentally shot down the commercial airliner.
Newsweek noted that the Pentagon has not remarked on the allegation.
Ukraine’s officials have gone on the record with the Tor missile theory.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, told reporters, according to the Associated Press, on Thursday. Danilov did not expand upon where on the internet the information surfaced; his remarks preceded the Newsweek report.
CBS News and the Associated Press carried similar anonymous reporting on the potential of anti-aircraft fire against the plane.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two US officials say it's “highly likely” Iranian anti-aircraft missile brought down Ukrainian passenger plane.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) January 9, 2020
NEW: "CBS News has learned U.S. officials are confident that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner in the hours after the Iranian missile attack on U.S. targets. 176 people were killed, including at least 63 Canadians." https://t.co/BLBUKzzbO6 pic.twitter.com/EHENM9HgqM
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) January 9, 2020
Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization concluded in a preliminary report released Thursday that a “sudden technical issue” had resulted in the crash and noted that, bizarrely, the crew on board did not attempt to contact air traffic control amid the disaster. Iranian officials almost immediately declared the crash a result of mechanical error on Wednesday, which the Ukrainian airline said was unlikely as the aircraft had received routine maintenance on Monday and was one of the newest and best in their fleet.
The crash killed 176 people on board, mostly Ukrainian, Iranian, and Canadian citizens. Over half of those on the flight had connecting flights into Canada, according to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his country to abstain from indulging “conspiracy theories” on Wednesday.
“Now our information space is filled with numerous theories and speculations about the tragedy. It is clear that we all want to know the truth as soon as possible. But in such cases, speed can interfere with the truth. We need to wait for at least the preliminary report of the investigation commission,” Zelensky said in a national address.