Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) has demanded that the Iranian government fully explain how its Revolutionary Guard Aerospace Force shot down its Boeing 737-800 aircraft on January 8, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. At a Saturday morning press conference in Kyiv, held a few hours after Iran admitted responsibility for the attack, the airline stated that flight PS752 had not deviated from its assigned flight path and that its pilots had been in contact with air traffic controllers until just before the aircraft was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.
Iran’s admission of responsibility came just a day after officials had insisted it was “scientifically impossible” for the aircraft to have been shot down and that technical failures on the 737 were to blame for the accident. However, on Saturday, Brigadier-General Amir-Ali Hajizadehh, head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Aerospace Force, indicated that before the shoot-down his personnel had asked for commercial flights in Iran to be suspended and that this had been refused by both Iran’s military leaders and the country’s civil aviation authorities.
At the press conference, UIA president Yevhenii Dykhne and flight operations vice president Igor Sosnovsky, showed reporters flight tracking data to support their insistence that their aircraft had not deviated from its assigned flight path and that the same course had been flown by other aircraft departing Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. Some reports out of Iran had suggested that PS752’s pilots flew off track towards a Revolutionary Guard missile base.
Dykhne stressed that prior to Iran's confession of having shot down the aircraft, the airline had conducted an exhaustive set of computer modeling exercises and concluded that the cause of the crash could not be explained by any failure in the aircraft or error by its crew.
The UIA executives said that Iran’s government must now fully explain how the shoot-down happened. They demanded full cooperation with Ukrainian and other international aviation experts now in Iran to complete a full and transparent inquiry.
“I am with [Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelenskiy when I demand to know what happened in this incident and a full accounting that the entire responsibility for this incident is Iran’s,” said Dykhne.
The Ukrainian president, who spoke on Saturday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, said, “We expect Iran...to bring the guilty to the courts,” calling also for the payment of compensation and the return of the remains of the flight crew and other Ukrainians who were on board.
Rouhani stated that Tehran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake” and, in another reversal of its initial position, has invited the U.S., Ukraine, Canada, and others to join the crash investigation.
The Boeing airliner, which had been delivered new to the Ukrainian carrier in 2016, was brought down by a Russian-made Tor (SA-15) air defense battery. However, the surface-to-air missile unit belonged not to the regular Iranian military’s air defense command but to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The unit in question had been on high alert following earlier ballistic missile attacks by Iran on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
Brigadier-General Hajizadeh’s admission that his forces had asked for civil airspace to be closed brought denunciations from Sosnovsky, who stated that Tehran should have closed the airport to all traffic until the situation in the region returned to normal. “It's absolutely irresponsible,” he said, and accused the Iranians of failing to protect ordinary citizens while “playing at war.”
“They were obligated to close the airport. Obligated! Then shoot as much as you like,” he continued.
The two airline chiefs declined to specify either the form or value of the compensation that they believe both the families and the air carrier are entitled to. “We are in the middle of a legal process at this point and cannot comment on these particulars,” said Dykhne.
On January 10, AIN asked the Civil Aviation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran to answer several questions about the PS752 accident. It has yet to receive any response.
The Flight Safety Foundation (FSF) issued a statement on January 11 calling on all countries to adhere to established guidance on civilian aircraft flying through conflict zones. "The shooting down of a civilian aircraft operating in civilian airspace, whether mistaken or not represents a flagrant violation of international law and irresponsible attack on the safety of international civil aviation," said FSF president and CEO Dr Hassan Shahidi. "Under established International Civil Aviation Organization guidance, it is the responsibility of the state civilian aviation agency to close its airspace and provide timely risk information to airlines during military conflict. Iran's civilian authority appears not to have followed the guidance, which would have prevented this tragic outcome. "