Iran Admits Shooting Down Ukrainian Civilian Airline As A “Disastrous Mistake”

Ukraine International Airlines B738, UR-PSR, TLV by LLBG Spotter

On January 8, Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 departed at 6:12 AM local time from Tehran, Iran, bound for Kiev, Ukraine, about an hour after its scheduled departure time of 5:15 AM. The plane reached an altitude of 2,416 meters (7,925 feet) above sea level, after which flight data recording was abruptly ended. The aircraft crashed 15 km (9.3 miles) northwest of the airport and was completely destroyed on impact, killing everyone aboard. The Boeing 737-800, which was only 3.6 years old, was carrying 176 passengers and crew, of which 82 were Iranian citizens and 63 were Canadian; the remainder were from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, and the United Kingdom. 9 were crew members and 15 were children. Emergency crews responded to the scene, but rescue attempts were prevented by fires, and wreckage was strewn across a wide area around the crash site.

Fars News Agency

The Iran Civil Aviation Organization announced that they sent investigators to the crash site, and the Ukrainian government also sent 53 representatives to Iran to assist with the investigation, in addition to opening a separate criminal investigation into the crash. Since the aircraft’s manufacturing origin was in the United States, the US NTSB received a notification from Iran’s Aircraft Accident Board and it assigned a representative to investigate the crash.

A day after the crash, the “black boxes,” onboard flight recorders used to log data, were reported by Iranian officials as damaged, stating the possibility that the data may not be recoverable. They also stated that they would not send the black boxes to Boeing or US authorities, ultimately sending them to France in order to be downloaded. Videos then began to emerge of bulldozers clearing debris at the crash site, raising concerns about disturbing an open investigation, and sparking theories about a conspiracy to cover up evidence.

Initially, investigators blamed mechanical issues aboard the aircraft for its crash. Officials from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom made statements that they had received evidence that the plane had been shot down by a missile. Iranian officials responded that these statements were propaganda and to protect financial interests in Boeing, the manufacturer of the aircraft.

Iran aviation chief rejects claim missile downed plane

News agencies such as BBC and NPR published detailed data about the crash to determine if the flight was downed by a missile or not. Social media posts by Iranian citizens began to emerge containing video footage of the aircraft in flight, along with a midair explosion. After days of denying allegations as false propaganda targeted against the regime, as more and more evidence emerged, ultimately the Iranian armed forced admitted that the plane was shot down in human error. The military claimed that the aircraft was heading toward military assets and was mistaken for a US cruise missile, but so far no evidence has been presented to indicate that the aircraft had deviated from its intended course.

The announcement sparked a dramatic response across the world. The Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky demanded Iran punish those involved in the incident as well as provide the payment of compensation for those affected. Multiple anti-government protests broke out from universities in Tehran, demanding the resignation of Ali Khamenei, causing the government to respond with riot police and tear gas. The UK ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was detained after attending a vigil dedicated to the victims of PS 752, after the vigil turned into a protest, accusing him of organizing the demonstration. US President Donald Trump wrote a post on Twitter in Farsi encouraging the citizens of Iran. Proponents of the Iran government blamed Trump personally for the crash, saying that it was a reactionary effect from the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani and so the civilian deaths were simply a result of Trump’s decisions.

The protests in Tehran began just days after multiple Iranian citizens died attending the funeral for Soleimani, leaving hundreds injured after being trampled by massive crowds in attendance packed into cramped quarters during the procession. The protests, demonstrations, instability, the threat of war, and stringent sanctions on the government have all combined to make life in Iran even more difficult on its inhabitants. Current sanctions strictly limit humanitarian efforts in the region, since the Iranian government is considered to be risk for money laundering and terrorism funding, and other humanitarian efforts are very reluctant to transact in Iran out of fear of retaliation from a US agency.

We currently do not have a recommended mechanism if you are interested to help in Iran.

  • Charitable agencies and charitable donations to Iran require a special license in order to export humanitarian aid to Iran.
  • If you make a contribution to Iranian humanitarian work, it will be subject to additional reporting requirements and subject to additional scrutiny.
  • The current travel ban makes it difficult to transport medicine and medical personnel in and out of the country.
  • The Iranian government has historically been resistant to any humanitarian aid offered by outside sources, sometimes considering them to be a vehicle for anti-government propaganda.