Iran says it will not give black box from crashed airliner to Boeing
Iran’s aviation authority has said it will not hand over flight recorders from the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed moments after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew onboard, either to the aircraft’s manufacturer or US aviation authorities. The statement was issued as the leaders of Ukraine and Canada, from which dozens of citizens died, vowed to identify the cause of the crash amid contradictory statements and swirling speculation.
The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said: “Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that … [the crash] is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered.”
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said: “Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board. The Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish passengers, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals, he said.
The announcement by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation head, Ali Abedzadeh, followed the launch of an urgent inquiry into the crash by the Ukrainian government, which rowed back on an earlier statement ruling out a terrorist act.
The developments have fuelled uncertainty over the circumstances of the crash, which occurred hours after Iran had fired a volley of missiles at bases used by US forces in neighbouring Iraq, in retaliation for the assassination of the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad by the US.
Speaking after the black box flight recorders were found at the crash site, Abedzadeh said: “We will not give the black boxes to the manufacturer and the Americans. It’s not yet clear which country the black box will go to for the investigation.
“This accident will be investigated by Iran’s aviation organisation, but the Ukrainians can also be present during the incident’s investigation.”
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, called for complete cooperation with any investigation and said the US was prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance in identifying the cause of the crash.
Journalists at the site described farmland covered with debris. The dead lay among shattered pieces of the aircraft, and their possessions – including a child’s electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics – were strewn across the site.
Iran’s insistence that it will not hand over the black boxes to Boeing comes amid claims that at least two aircraft which had been originally routed through Iranian airspace around the time of the Iranian missile attacks on the bases in Iraq were either told to turn around or redirected.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 disappeared from flight trackers a few minutes after its delayed takeoff from Tehran, apparently suffering a catastrophic incident that caused it to break up in flames over farmland outside the city with crew unable to issue a mayday alert.
Amateur video, allegedly capturing the plane’s final moments, appeared to show a brightly burning object in the sky, breaking into pieces before exploding in orange flames on the horizon.
The video was published on the website of the state-run Iranian Students News Agency, which also carried a photograph of section of wing from the crashed aircraft, which some analysts said appeared to show penetration damage.
Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash, amid announcements from a slew of other international airlines that they would be avoiding Iranian and Iraqi airspace following the escalating tensions between the US and Iran.
“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevheniy Dykhne, the president of Ukraine International Airlines, said at a briefing following the crash.
As the investigation got under way, the aviation safety information-sharing website OpsGroup, which was set up following the shooting down of Malaysian airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, urged airline operators to err on the side of caution until the cause of the crash had been established and work on the assumption the plane had been shot down.
Under the rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, of which Iran, Ukraine and the US are all members, air crash investigations are led by the country where the accident occurred.
Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the three-and-a-half-year-old Boeing 737-800, an assessment Ukrainian officials initially agreed with but later backed away from while the investigation is ongoing.
Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Service Institute, said that he believed on balance the incident was “a tragic coincidence”.
He said it would require a fairly large surface-to-air missile to inflict such catastrophic damage on a civilian airliner, “but there was no evidence of a rocket plume” in the videos that have emerged so far. “It would also be very hard to conceal such a large rocket battery from the ground,” he added.
Amid speculation about the cause of the crash, the third in recent months involving a Boeing passenger aircraft, civil aviation insiders also pointed to the large debris field to suggest the plane had broken up suddenly in midair.
The 737-800 belongs to the same family as, but is different from, the 737 Max 8 aircraft, which has been grounded since two fatal crashes occurred within six months in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018.
The 737-800 operates with a different software system to the one implicated in the Max 8 crashes.
The plane had been last serviced two days before the accident, according to the airline.
An investigation team was deployed to the site of the crash on the south-western outskirts of Tehran on Wednesday morning, said Reza Jafarzadeh, a civil aviation spokesman.
Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s road and transportation ministry, told the state-run Irna news agency it appeared the pilot had lost control after a fire struck one of the plane’s engines.
Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot could not communicate with air traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not provide further details.
Zelenskiy, who cut short a visit to Oman following the crash, ordered an investigation and a sweeping check of “all civilian aircraft” in Ukraine.
“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” Dmytro Razumkov, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, said in a statement on Facebook.
The UK Foreign Office said it was urgently seeking confirmation about how many British nationals were onboard, and would do all it could to support any families affected.
One witness, Aref Geravand, told AP the pilot managed to steer the plane towards a football field and away from a residential area, saying: “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”
The Boeing 737-800 model used by Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) that crashed in Tehran on Wednesday is the most popular aircraft in the sky, used by airlines from Ryanair to American Airlines. Boeing’s short-haul workhorse is the predecessor to the 737 Max, the model that was grounded after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.
The 737-800, a single-aisle aircraft that can carry 189 passengers, was launched in September 1994 as part of the 737 Next Generation (737 NG) lineup. As of February 2019 more than 4,900 had been delivered, although it has been superseded by the 737 Max, the US manufacturer’s fastest-selling model.
More recently some Boeing 737-800 planes have had safety issues, with groundings caused by cracks between the wing and fuselage in the so-called “pickle fork” structure.
The UIA plane had taken off from Imam Khomeini international airport in the Iranian capital when a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s road and transportation ministry. The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing to the ground, Biniaz was quoted as saying by the state-run Irna news agency.
However, Ukraine’s embassy in Iran dropped an initial reference to engine failure as the cause of a Ukrainian plane crash outside Tehran on Wednesday. It said in a second statement that the causes had not been disclosed and that any previous comments were not official.
All Boeing 737 NG planes use CFM56 engines manufactured by CFM, a joint venture between the US manufacturer General Electric and the French manufacturer Safran. The engines are also used on Airbus planes, including the A320.
There are more than 8,000 CFM56 engines in service on 737 aircraft worldwide, making it the most popular engine-aircraft combination in commercial aviation, according to the joint venture’s website. Last month CFM said the engines had completed a billion flight hours, the first engine family to do so.
Boeing said: “This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”
A GE spokesman said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752. We extend heartfelt sympathies to the families and loved ones of those on board.”
In a statement, UIA said: “UIA expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims.”
The location of the crash – Iran – could complicate the investigation, according to the consultant air crash investigator Tony Cable. The country in which a crash occurs usually carries out the investigation, while the airline’s home country and those of the plane and engine manufacturer were also entitled to send representatives, he said. This may be complicated by the tensions between the US and Iran after the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, a senior Iranian general.