Ukraine does not rule out attack as cause of plane crash in Iran
Ukrainian authorities are not ruling out that its plane, which crashed early on Wednesday in Iran killing all 176 passengers and crew on board, was downed by a missile or an attack amid a sharp escalation between Tehran and Washington.
The Ukrainian International airliner bound for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, plunged from the sky minutes after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
The Boeing 737-800 was last seen on radar at 2,400 metres, according to the FlightRadar 24 monitoring website, hours after Tehran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US facilities in neighbouring Iraq.
"We must investigate all possible causes," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Facebook, shortly after Iranian officials said the crash was caused by a fire that struck one of the plane's engines, causing the pilots to lose control.
Zelenskyy has ordered Ukrainian prosecutors to open an investigation into the crash.
Shortly before Zelenskyy's announcement, Ukraine's embassy in Iran removed a statement that ruled out the attacks from its website, Ukrainian media reported.
The Ukrainian UNIAN news agency quoted the Jordanian Al Hadath news outlet as claiming that the plane had been shot down by Iranian air force by mistake.
"Until the official investigation is over, naming any version would be manipulation," Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk told a news conference in response to a question about the possibility of a missile or attack on the plane.
He said a group of experts were heading to Iran to investigate the crash, collect victims' remains and return them to Ukraine.
"We're getting the group ready for departure," he said.
According to international agreements, Ukraine can participate in the investigation as the state of registry and operator.
Iranian officials said the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, known as "black boxes," have been found. Their examination will be crucial in establishing the cause of the crash.
Meanwhile, Ukraine International airline said the three-year-old plane underwent a maintenance check on Monday and no technical problems were identified.
"It was one of our best airplanes with a great, reliable crew," the company's CEO Yevhen Dykhne told a news conference in Kyiv through tears.
His colleague claimed that flight conditions at the Tehran airport were complicated.
"Knowing that the Tehran airport is not an easy one, our flight training for all crews on [Boeing] 737s were held exclusively at the Tehran airport," Ihor Sosnovsky, the airline's vice president, told reporters.
Considering that the plane was 2,400 metres above ground before it disappeared off radar, crew error "was unlikely", Dykhne said.
He refused to comment on whether the plane was shot down by a missile.
Chief pilot Volodymir Haponenko had flown more than 10,000 hours during hundreds of flights, he said.
"Aviation was his life, he was a great pilot," his widow Yekaterina Haponenko, a mother of two, said in televised remarks.
Eleven Ukrainian nationals, including nine crew, were among the victims, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.
He said that 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians were on board along with 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons.
Meanwhile, officials in Tehran said 147 of the victims were Iranian, which suggests 65 of the passengers had dual citizenship.
Boeing's 737-800 planes will face international scrutiny after the crash.
In December, Boeing's CEO Dennis Muilenburg was removed after one of the company's most disastrous years. Two 737 Max planes crashed in 2018, and all Max planes worldwide have been grounded.