‘Missile strike’ a possible explanation for Iran crash, say aviation experts

posted on 9th January 2020 by William Hayes
‘Missile strike’ a possible explanation for Iran crash, say aviation experts

In a refutation of Iranian claims the fatal Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) crash was due to a technical failure, independent aviation experts have said a “shootdown” could be the cause.

The Boeing 737-800 went down minutes after take-off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International airport, with Iranian investigators citing technical issues as the most likely reason for the accident.

This was a position that had been repeated by Ukrainian embassy in Tehran, only for it to later retract its statement and say the cause should only be decided by an official commission.

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesperson for Iran’s road and transportation ministry, said the pilot “lost control of the plane” after a fire broke out in one of its engines.

Independent Russian aviation expert Vadim Lukashevich said it was clear that there was some sort of fire on board, and that the plane broke up upon impact. The rest, he said, was “conjecture”.

“In any air accident, there are usually three factors: human, weather and mechanical. Here you can add a fourth – the political. We know that a few hours before the crash, Iran sent missiles over to US targets in Iraq. They were expecting a response by air. We know they were on full alert.”

It is too early to rule out an external strike, he said – even if Iranian claims that one of the engines caught fire turned out to be true.

“An engine fire does not exclude the possibility that it was caused by a missile strike,” he said. “The fact that Iran immediately discounted all explanations bar mechanical is suspicious.”

While some aviation experts said it was too early to speculate, the OPS group, an aviation risk-monitoring group, said: “We would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event, similar to MH17 – until there is clear evidence to the contrary,” highlighting photos of the crash site which they said “show obvious projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section.”

UIA has also discounted the possibility of technical problems, insisting there was “nothing wrong” with the three-year-old Boeing 737-800, which had undergone a scheduled technical check only two days earlier.

“We guarantee the safety of our aircraft and the high qualification of our crews,” a spokesperson said.

Earlier, Iran said it would not hand over the recovered black box flight recorders to Boeing or to the US.

Under global aviation rules Iran has the right to lead the investigation, but manufacturers are typically involved.

The crash came at a time of high tensions between Iran and the US – just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes on two air bases housing US forces in Iraq. However there is no evidence the two events are linked.

Philip Baum, the editor of Aviation Security International magazine, said it was too early to speculate, although the incident was notable “given the fact it was in Iran and the timing, and if you associate two states with shootdowns, as victims, then Ukraine springs to mind purely because of MH17,” and Iran, given the 1988 US shooting down of an Iranian civilian plane.

But, he added, it could just be “a bizarre coincidence that it should happen at this moment of time”.

“I just think there is nothing to indicate that it was a shootdown, and if it was shot down then by whom?”

Zeev Sarig, the former head of Ben Gurion airport in Israel, said a technical failure could be behind the plane crash, or an explosive device on board.

Speaking to Russian news agency RIA, he said that while a full investigation was necessary, the two main possibilities were, “a bomb on board that runs on a timer or altitude monitor, exploding when the plane reaches a certain height” or “a technical malfunction about which we don’t know anything yet. Unfortunately from what I see that looks less likely.”

Zeev Sarig, the former head of Ben Gurion airport in Israel, said a technical failure could be behind the plane crash, or an explosive device on board.

Speaking to Russian news agency RIA, he said that while a full investigation was necessary, the two main possibilities were, “a bomb on board that runs on a timer or altitude monitor, exploding when the plane reaches a certain height” or “a technical malfunction about which we don’t know anything yet. Unfortunately from what I see that looks less likely.”