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A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 (Photo: Anna Zvereva from Tallinn, Estonia [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)])

Iran Acknowledges Responsibility for Downing Passenger Jet

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization issued a preliminary report indicating the country’s military fired two surface-to-air missiles at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 572 in January causing the downing of the B737-800. The report cites several human factors that contributed to the loss of 176 passengers and crew.

Shortly after the accident aircraft departed from Imam Khomeini International Airport on January 8, it was mistakenly assumed to be a missile targeting the Iranian capital. The Iranian military was on heightened alert after having fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq in retaliation for the US drone strike one week earlier that killed one of Iran’s most powerful leaders, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

While the report does not specifically mention the recent conflict in the region, it does acknowledge a change in the alertness level of Iran’s air defenses. The military sector had informed the civil sector of the country’s Airspace Control that only the flights already detected and cleared for flight operations by the defense network could be permitted to operate.

The report stated that an air-defense system was recently moved and the operator had not recalibrated it for its new position. Due to this oversight, the radar unit was 107 degrees out of alignment causing the passenger jet to appear as a potential threat approaching the capital from the southwest. The report said, “such a failure initiated a hazard chain.” 

Iran initially blamed the accident on an engine failure but confirmed in the report that it fired two missiles at the airliner. At the time of firing the first missile, the aircraft was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory. 

The first missile is believed to have struck the jet, partially disabling it. Local ATC reported the loss of transponder communications with the aircraft after the first missile strike but the military radars were still tracking the flight. A second missile was fired 30 seconds later when the aircraft’s trajectory still indicated a heading towards the capital city.

The aircraft impacted the aircraft crashed into a playground in Khalajabad near the Shahedshahr area approximately four minutes after the first missile was fired. 

The report indicated the missiles were fired by the defense system operator without approval from Iran’s Coordination Center. In its’ report, Iran cited an apparent lack of cooperation by the individuals involved. 

The report claimed those involved “will naturally be led to defending themselves, hence reducing their cooperation in identifying the factors contributing to the accident. Even worse, others will consider concealing issues concerning them in case of occurrence of an error leading to an accident, so that they can escape blame and avoid liability, and, as a result, will be resorting to hiding such sensitive issues rather than reporting and cooperating to eliminate the areas of concern.”

In light of the report’s findings, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) issued guidance to its members to avoid operations in Iran.

“Due to the hazardous security situation, and poor coordination between civil aviation and military operations, there is a risk of misidentification of civil aircraft,” EASA announced on Thursday. “Due to the presence of various advanced air-defense systems, it is advised to be cautious.”

Rick Shideler
Rick Shideler
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