01/10/2020

The U.S. has a ‘high level of confidence’ in the assessment, official says; shape of debris field and Iranian radar provide clues

U.S., Canadian and U.K. officials believe that a Ukrainian commercial aircraft that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board, was downed by a missile system fired by Iran, possibly by mistake. We have a high level of confidence that this was shot down by Iran, one U.S. official said Thursday. The official said the plane was being tracked moments before it went down by Iranian radar used to aim missiles. A second official said the U.S. believes Iran may have downed the aircraft by mistake.The first official identified the weapon as a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile system, also referred to as the Gauntlet.
Short-range air-defense system designed for intercepting aircraft, missiles or other projectiles
Iran disputed the accusation, which a government spokesman called a big lie.
One factor contributing to the U.S. assessment was the large field of debris at the crash site, a second official said. Planes that crash as a result of mechanical failure have narrower debris fields, the official said.
President Trump on Thursday said I have my suspicions about the crash, voicing doubt in remarks at the White House that the cause may have been a mechanical problem.
Canada Prime Minister
Justin Trudeau
and U.K. Prime Minister
Boris Johnson
also said Thursday they believe the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system. This may well have been unintentional, Mr. Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa of the crash, which killed at least 63 Canadians. He reiterated his push for a credible probe into the cause: I want answers.
While Canada and the U.K. said one missile was fired, the U.S. officials said two were used.
The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane departed the Iranian capitals Imam Khomeini International Airport en route to Kyiv, Ukraine early Wednesday.
The crash came hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S. troops at two Iraqi bases in retaliation for the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The timing of those attacks raised questions about whether the Ukrainian airliner was downed by a projectile.
Ali Abedzadeh,
head of Irans Civil Aviation Organization, told Irans Channel 2 news program that it was not possible an Iranian missile had hit the jet. How would the antiaircraft system shoot it? It wasnt a security area, he said.
Mr. Abedzadeh said that up to nine other planes were flying in the area at the time of the crash and dozens of aircraft were at an altitude of 25,000 feet. Witnesses saw the plane fall to the ground in flames, he said. If the plane was hit by a missile it would have exploded, he said.
Ali Rabiei,
Irans government spokesman, said the country vowed to conduct a fully transparent, precise, quick investigation, according to a statement on news agency ISNA.
A Pentagon source who didnt want to reveal their name bombastically reported the news that the Ukrainian plane was hit by two missiles, he said. When in the future it turns out that there is no truth to this claim, no one will take responsibility for this big lie.
Mr. Rabiei added, We call on Boeing to send its representative to participate in the procedure of examining the black box.
Iran earlier rejected the notion of a hostile act. Since the Ukrainian pilot was trying to return to the airport, a rocket, missile strike or the countrys defense system is out of question, said
Hassan Rezaifar,
head of Irans Civil Aviation Organization commission for accidents investigation, as quoted by Irans state news agency. No missile part was found in the crash scene.
Other Iranian officials quoted by the state news agency said the plane had suffered a technical fault, that it had started to turn back toward Tehrans airport and was already on fire before it hit the ground. They said the jet had reached 8,000 feet before disappearing from radar.
Flight 752s path
TEHRAN
IMAM KHOMEINI
INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT
NASIMSHAHR
DEBRIS FIELD
5,800
Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault
6,800
7,350
Range of the SA-15
missile (12 km)
Tehran
PARAND
IRAN
DEBRIS FIELD
Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.
Flight path
10 miles
Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)
Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal
10 km
TEHRAN
IMAM KHOMEINI
INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT
NASIMSHAHR
DEBRIS FIELD
5,800
6,800
Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault
7,350
PARAND
Range of the SA-15
missile (12 km)
Tehran
Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.
IRAN
DEBRIS FIELD
Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)
Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal
Flight path
10 miles
10 km
TEHRAN
IMAM KHOMEINI
INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT
NASIMSHAHR
DEBRIS FIELD
5,800
6,800
Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault
7,350
PARAND
Range of the SA-15
missile (12 km)
Tehran
IRAN
Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.
DEBRIS FIELD
Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)
Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal
Flight path
10 miles
10 km
Range of the SA-15
missile (12 km)
Tehran
IRAN
DEBRIS FIELD
Flight path
10 miles
10 km
IMAM KHOMEINI
INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT
TEHRAN
DEBRIS FIELD
6,800
7,350
PARAND
Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault
Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.
Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)
Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal
The investigation is expected to be particularly thorny, with heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran over the killing of the top Iranian general likely to complicate international cooperation.
A spokesperson for Ukraine International Airlines didnt immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ukraine is interested in finding the truth. Therefore, I ask all our international partners: if you have any evidence to assist the investigation, please provide it, said a spokeswoman for Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelensky.
A Ukrainian official said that while Ukrainian investigators havent reached a firm conclusion, a missile strike seems increasingly likely.
A U.S. official familiar with the matter said Wednesday that data transmitted via satellite indicated everything was normal on the jetliner until the sudden loss of data and the fatal dive. That data suggest to some U.S. air-safety officials that there may have been a hostile act, said the official.
The last high-profile shootdown of a commercial airliner occurred in eastern Ukraine in 2014, when pro-Russian separatists battling the government downed a Malaysian plane with a surface-to-air missile. All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died. International investigators said later the missile was Russian-made.
In 1988, the U.S. Navys Vincennes warship downed Iran Air Flight 655 with an air-defense missile. U.S. officials said they mistook the Airbus SE A300 airliner for a combat plane they feared would attack the ship. All 290 people on the plane died.
A report from the Iranian civil aviation regulator said the search operation for the Ukrainian jet found the so-called black boxes, including the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. Both caught fire in the crash and were damaged, but the memories of the recorders remained in good condition, the report said.
A team of 45 Ukrainian experts and officials arrived in Tehran early Thursday and will be involved in decoding the black boxes and identifying and repatriating bodies. The team had already collected DNA samples from relatives of the victims in Ukraine.
The priority for Ukraine is to establish the causes of the crash, Mr. Zelensky said. Ukraine said the president spoke by phone with Iranian President
Hassan Rouhani,
who pledged full cooperation in the investigation, including sharing all data with Ukrainian officials on the ground in Tehran.
However, it wasnt clear how much access U.S. investigators will get to the crash site, given the current animosity between the two countries. Irans Mr. Rezaifar said the probe would be conducted according to standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, and in its initial report on the crash the regulator said it would like to invite all the states involved in the accident to participate.
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How does the strained relationship between the U.S. and Iran complicate the investigation into this crash? Join the conversation below.
Based on ICAOs convention, the home country of the airline and the makers of the plane and its major systems each are entitled to appoint a representative to participate in crash probes. That, in theory, includes the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and
Boeing
Co.
Boeing has said it is in contact with Ukraine International Airlines and is ready to assist in any way. Determining what went wrong is critical to the plane maker, which already is dealing with the grounding of its best-selling 737 MAX fleet after two fatal crashes involving that jet.
The plane that crashed, a 737-800, is the most popular version of the aerospace giants workhorse jet. The model and its variants account for around 25% of all commercial jetliners in operation, enjoying one of the industrys best safety records.
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Corrections & Amplifications An earlier version of this article misspelled engine maker CFM as CRM. (Jan. 9, 2020)
Write to Nancy A. Youssef at nancy.youssef@wsj.com, Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com and Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com
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