Two Russian-made SA-15 missiles — also known as Gauntlets — are suspected of crippling the jet, a U.S. intelligence source said

WASHINGTON/KIEV — A Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was most likely brought down accidentally by Iranian air defences, U.S. officials said Thursday, as President Donald Trump said he had a terrible feeling about the disaster.
The passengers on the plane included more than 60 Canadian citizens. Addressing assembled media in Ottawa after Trump’s earlier remarks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada has intelligence that indicates the plane was shot down.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence, the intelligence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile. This may well have been unintentional,” he said.
Two intelligence sources familiar with the evidence in U.S. hands reported that two surface-to-air missile launches were detected from an Iranian battery minutes after the jet took off. This was followed by an explosion near the plane, said one of the people. The jet began an abrupt descent and crashed in a massive fireball, the person added.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 plunged from the sky about two minutes after a pre-dawn takeoff. The Boeing Co. 737-800 was on fire as it descended, according to witnesses on the ground and in other aircraft, according to a preliminary Iranian report.
The U.S. government has obtained evidence indicating that the rapid descent was not the result of a mechanical issue on the plane or errors by the pilots, sources told Bloomberg. The sources asked not to be named discussing intelligence reports.
Two SA-15 missiles are suspected of crippling the jet, said one of the people. The Russian-made missile, also known as a Gauntlet or a Tor, is a short-range weapon designed to attack planes, helicopters and other airborne targets. The launches were detected by a U.S. spy satellite and occurred from a known missile battery near the Tehran airport, the person said.
“It was flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood”
US President Donald Trump says he “has his suspicions” about what happened to the Ukrainian plane that crashed near Tehran, after US officials say Iran may have mistakenly shot it downhttps://t.co/MNwEcG5C10pic.twitter.com/N6hKjLUK67
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) January 9, 2020
Speaking to reporters, Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible, without laying direct blame. He said the crash could have been a mistake, adding he had a terrible feeling about the downed airliner but offering no evidence.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side,” Trump said in a Washington news conference, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighbourhood.”
“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”
The Pentagon declined to comment. Iran has strenuously denied that missiles were involved in the crash.
Debris from the wreckage of a Boeing Co. 737-800 aircraft, operated by Ukraine International Airlines, which crashed shortly after takeoff covers the site near Shahedshahr, Iran, on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg
The New York Times reports that Iran has now invited the National Transportation Safety Board of the United States to help with the crash probe, despite earlier indications that the U.S. would be shut out.
Publicly, Iran’s civil aviation authority said it has invited Canadian investigators from the Transportation Safety Board to help probe the crash. The announcement that Canadians will be involved came as Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke to his Iranian counterpart about the disaster.
A summary of the phone call released this morning by Global Affairs Canada says Champagne stressed to Mohammad Javad Zarif the need for Canadian officials to be allowed into Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and to take part in the investigation.
His office said Champagne insisted that Canada and Canadians have “many questions which will need to be answered.”
BREAKING: US officials have said they are now “confident” the passenger plane that came down in Tehran was shot down by an Iranian missile.
Donald Trump says he had a feeling something “very terrible” happened and “somebody could have made a mistake”.https://t.co/W0GonPaA9Spic.twitter.com/emTLQT3j3V
— Sky News (@SkyNews) January 9, 2020
In this file photo taken on January 08, 2020, people and rescue teams are pictured amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, killing everyone on board.ROUHOLLAH VAHDATI/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images
News of the American theory that missiles were to blame comes after a day of intense speculation.
The crash happened just hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, leading some, in its immediate aftermath, to fear that the plane may have been hit.
A preliminary Iranian report said the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed.
The report said there was no radio communication from the pilot and that the aircraft disappeared from radar at 8,000 feet (2,440 m). It referred to the crash as an accident.
The report says that both of the black boxes that contain data and cockpit communications from the plane have been recovered, though they sustained damage and some parts of their memory was lost.
A top Ukrainian security official on Thursday set out what he said were Ukraine’s four main theories for why the airliner crashed, including a possible missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.
Oleksiy Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, made his statement in a Facebook post, as an initial report by Iran said the Boeing 737-800 had been on fire immediately before it went down.
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
Matching Iran’s technical problem verdict, an initial assessment by Western intelligence agencies had indicated Wednesday that the plane suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile. That was according to five security sources cited by Reuters — three Americans, one European and a Canadian — who asked not to be named.
Images showing punctures and holes in debris from the crash have been circulating on social media, causing some to prematurely speculate shrapnel from a missile attack played a role in the downing.
In a televised statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked people to refrain from speculation, conspiracy theories and hasty evaluations. He declared Thursday a day of national mourning.
A journalist who did an investigation into the plane that was shot down over Ukraine in 2014 issued caution about the images. “Be careful about analysis of holes in various parts of the plane,” Nick Waters tweeted. “For example: these images show the same piece, where at least some of the ‘holes’ actually appear to be small rocks or other debris in higher resolution images.”
Hey all, be careful about analysis of holes in various parts of the plane.
For example: these images show the same piece, where at least some of the “holes” actually appear to be small rocks or other debris in higher resolution images. pic.twitter.com/FKhLLMZXf5
— Nick Waters (@N_Waters89) January 8, 2020
Danylov said Ukrainian investigators in Iran wanted to search the crash site for possible debris of a Russian missile after seeing reports about its possible existence on the Internet.
He referred to an unverified image being circulated on Iranian social media purportedly showing the debris of a Russian-made Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile of the kind used by the Iranian military.
“Our (investigative) commission is talking to the Iranian authorities about visiting the crash site and is determined to search for fragments of a Russian Tor air defence missile about which there was information on the internet,” Danylov separately told Ukrainian news site Censor.net.
He said Ukraine would draw on expertise learnt from carrying out its own investigation into the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 over eastern Ukraine, an incident that killed all 298 people on board.
Several U.S.-based aviation experts have expressed skepticism that a technical malfunction brought down the plane. Iran, however, has strongly rejected speculation that a missile might have hit it.
Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the armed forces, described that chatter to Iran’s Mehr news agency as American “psychological warfare,” as well as “ridiculous” and an “utter lie.”
“Most of the passengers on this plane were invaluable Iranian youth; everything we do is aimed at defending our people’s and country’s security,” Shekarchi said.
This handout picture taken and released by the Ukrainian presidential press service shows Ukraines President Volodymyr Zelensky placing flowers at a memorial for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 crash in the Iranian capital Tehran, at the Boryspil airport outside Kiev on January 9, 2020.HO/UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER/AFP via Getty Images
Jeff Guzzetti, who headed the Federal Aviation Administration’s accident investigation division until his retirement last year, said preliminary and publicly available evidence, such as witness video of the crash and news organizations’ photos of the wreckage, suggest that the plane was brought down deliberately. He added that the emergence of further evidence could change his view.
“To me it has all the earmarks of an intentional act,” Guzzetti told The Washington Post. “I don’t know whether it was a bomb or a missile or an incendiary device. I just know airplanes don’t come apart like that.”
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that 138 of the victims were en route to Toronto. He promised that the crash would be “thoroughly investigated.”
“Canadians have questions, and they deserve answers,” he said.
A handout photo provided by the Iranian news agency IRNA on January 8, 2020, shows rescue teams working at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran.AKBAR TAVAKOLI/IRNA/AFP via Getty Images
Asked if he could “categorically” rule out that the plane was not shot down, Trudeau said that he could not, adding that it is too early to speculate on possible causes.
Canadas dialogue with Iran is constrained. The country severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012, citing security concerns. Trudeau said Wednesday that Italy has been representing Canadas interests in Iran.
With files from Canadian Press and The Washington Post