The Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran airport on Tuesday was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile, probably by accident, according to U.S. intelligence sources. Newsweek is reporting that two sources — one in U.S. intelligence and the other in the Pentagon — are saying that this is the Pentagon’s assessment of what happened following the discovery of fragments from a Russian-made missile found in the suburbs of Tehran.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, a Boeing 737–800 en route from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airpot to Kyiv’s Boryspil International Airport, stopped transmitting data Tuesday just minutes after takeoff and not long after Iran launched missiles at military bases housing U.S. and allied forces in neighboring Iraq. 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.
While both “black boxes” have been found amid the wreckage, Iran is refusing to release the boxes to either Boeing or an international investigative unit. That alone raises significant questions about what happened.
The incident was first reported by Iranian semi-official media outlets, which cited the country’s Red Crescent Society as assessing that the initial cause appeared to be mechanical failure. The Ukrainian embassy in Tehran shared this view in a statement, but later retracted it, with Kyiv warning not to draw conclusions from preliminary assessments.
Images began to circulate Wednesday of what appeared to be fragments of a Tor M-1 missile said to have been found in a suburb southwest of Tehran. Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said Thursday in a statement that contact with a Tor M-1 system was among the potential causes for the plane’s destruction that his country was looking into.
The assessment that fingers an anti-aircraft missile apparently couldn’t conclude whether the missile was fired by nervous Iranians or Russians manning the battery. But some intel analysts are not convinced that a missile brought the jet down.
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800, en route to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed hours after Iran fired missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.
But five security sources – three Americans, one European and one Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile. There was evidence one of the jet’s engines had overheated, the Canadian source said.
Most of the questions surrounding the crash could be easily answered if independent investigators had access to the black boxes. Whether Iran releases them will say a lot about whether they have anything to hide.