CBS News reported on Friday that Iranian “scavengers” have “scrubbed” the site where a Ukrainian passenger jet came down outside Tehran before outside investigators could examine the evidence. “Virtually all debris” was removed before outsiders were allowed on the scene.
CBS crew just visited the #Ukrainian airlines crash site west of Tehran. Nine am local time. Virtually all pieces of the plane were removed yesterday – say locals. Scavengers now picking site clean. No security. Not cordoned off. No sign of any investigators. pic.twitter.com/hhNJyokhjq
— Elizabeth Palmer (@elizapalmer) January 10, 2020
While CBS primarily complained about “scavengers” randomly plucking debris from the site and highlighted the inexplicable lack of security, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell called the Iranian regime out for deliberately destroying evidence, linking to German-language reports about bulldozers on the scene:
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) January 9, 2020
CBS reports indicated large portions of the downed aircraft’s fuselage have been removed from the site, which would be difficult to explain as the work of random scavengers rushing to grab a few souvenirs.
Iranian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Hamid Baeidinejad on Friday denied bulldozers were clearing the crash site, even though they have been captured in photographs and video recordings.
(Deleted previous tweet to clarify terminology)
Images of heavy machinery in use at the #PS752 crash site: right (35.561029, 51.104018) and left (35.559296, 51.104630)
— Giancarlo Fiorella (@gianfiorella) January 9, 2020
Furthermore, Iranian media outlets have posted photos of objects removed from the crash site and neatly arranged for convenient display.
At a news conference on Friday, Iranian officials displayed what they claimed was one of the “black box” flight recorders recovered from the aircraft and said it could take “one or two months” to recover its data, while a full investigation of the incident could take “one or two years” to complete.
The regime originally said it would not share the black boxes with U.S. officials or the American manufacturer of the plane, Boeing, but later it appeared to back away from that position and indicated it might be willing to share the boxes, or at least the data it claims to extract from them, with foreign investigators.
“Generally speaking, Iran has the potential and know-how to decode the black box. Everybody knows that,” Iranian Civil Aviation Authority chief Ali Abedzadeh boasted to CNN on Thursday, perhaps sensitive to how Iran’s intransigence might give the contrary impression.
“The black box of this very Ukrainian Boeing 737 is damaged. Ukrainian Aviation experts arrived here in Tehran today. We had a session with them. From tomorrow they will start decoding the data,” Abedzadeh said. He did not elaborate on what “very Ukrainian” means or explain how Ukrainian technicians might have altered the flight recorder in a way that makes it difficult to read.
Intelligence agencies around the world announced on Thursday that the plane was very likely destroyed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, specifically a Russian-built SA-15. U.S. officials implied satellite intelligence helped them reach this determination quickly. Some video footage leaked out of Iran appears to show an object rising rapidly from the ground and impacting the plane, causing it to burst into flames. The regime in Tehran continues to insist the plane crashed due to a mysterious mechanical failure.