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Iran admits it mistakenly shot down Ukrainian passenger jet following 'human error'

The Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday.

Updated Jan 11th 2020, 3:26 PM

iran-plane-crash 176 people on board the jet were killed when it was struck earlier this week Source: AP/PA Images

IRAN HAS ADMITTED that the country’s military accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet that crashed near Tehran earlier this week.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane, which went down on Wednesday and killed all 176 people on board, was mistaken for a “hostile plane” in what has been described as a “human error”.

A press statement published by the official IRNA news agency said the plane was hit while perceived threats against the country were at the highest level.

The crash happened shortly after Iran launched missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the killing of Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top generals, in a US drone strike late last week.

Iranian officials initially blamed the crash on a mechanical failure.

The country’s president Hassan Rouhani described the incident as a “great tragedy” and an “unforgivable mistake”.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” he tweeted.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the country’s armed forces to address “shortcomings” to ensure such an error did not happen again, and expressed “sincere condolences” to the families of the deceased.

The country’s Fars news agency reported that the supreme leader ordered the truth be told after learning about it himself yesterday.

Fars said it had learned that “as soon as the supreme leader was informed of the catastrophic mistake” on Friday, he ordered that the outcome of investigations “be made known to the people explicitly and honestly”. 

176-dead-in-ukrainian-airline-crash-in-iran Debris is seen from a plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran Source: Rouzbeh Fouladi/PA Images

The admission came a day after Iran’s civil aviation chief denied claims that the plane had been shot down, as international pressure mounted on Tehran to conduct a credible investigation.

On Thursday, the US and Canada both claimed they had seen intelligence that suggested the plane was shot down, while it previously emerged that the plane’s crew did not radio for help before the aircraft went down.

Video footage of the flight, which the New York Times said it had verified, also emerged which appeared to show the moment the airliner was hit.

Iran has now invited the United States, Ukraine, Canada and others to join the crash investigation.

The majority of passengers on board were Iranian-Canadian dual nationals but also included Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons and Swedes.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday closure and accountability were needed following the disaster, and also demanded “transparency, and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims”.

“This is a national tragedy, and all Canadians are mourning together,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said he would demand punishment and compensation over the disaster.

“We expect Iran… to bring the guilty to the courts,” he wrote on Facebook, calling also for the “payment of compensation” and the return of remains of the deceased.

“We hope the inquiry will be pursued without deliberate delay and without obstruction,” Zelensky added.

He also urged “total access” to the full inquiry for 45 Ukrainian experts, and in a tweet sought an “official apology”. Zelensky is due to speak on the phone with Rouhani at 5pm local time (3pm GMT) to discuss the tragedy.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, welcomed Iran’s admission as an “important first step”.

In a statement, Johnson said there now needs to be a “comprehensive, transparent and independent international investigation” into exactly what happened.

He said the Government will do everything it can to support the families of the British victims and ensure they get “the answers and closure they deserve”.

He said: “Iran’s admission that Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 was shot down by mistake by its own armed forces is an important first step.

We now need a comprehensive, transparent and independent international investigation and the repatriation of those who died.

“The UK will work closely with Canada, Ukraine and our other international partners affected by this accident to ensure this happens.

“This tragic accident only reinforces the importance of de-escalating tensions in the region. We can all see very clearly that further conflict will only lead to more loss and tragedy.

“It is vital that all leaders now pursue a diplomatic way forward.”

memorial-corner-of-the-borispyl-airport-in-kiev-ukraine-09-jan-2020 Flowers and candles placed in front of the portraits of the victims at an airport in Kiev Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

The crash was Iran’s worst civil aviation disaster since the US military shot down an Iran Air plane over the Gulf by mistake in July 1988, killing all 290 people on board.

Many airlines from around the world cancelled flights to and Iran in the wake of the crash, or rerouted flights away from Iranian airspace.

The disaster came as tensions soared in the region after the Soleimani killing, and fears grew of an all-out war between the United States and Iran.

Ukraine said yesterday that experts it had dispatched to Iran had been granted access to the flight’s black boxes, debris from the plane, the crash site and to recordings of conversations between the pilot and the airport control tower.

Many in Kiev have compared the crash to the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine, which killed 298 people in 2014.

Contains reporting from - © AFP 2020

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