Iran dismisses speculations Ukrainian flight taken down by missile

Iran’s minister of road and urban development has dismissed as “untrue” rumors that suggest the Wednesday crash of a Ukrainian airliner was because of a missile attack, as the incident coincided with the launch of Iran’s missiles against a US base in Iraq.

Mohammad Eslami said the Boeing 737-800 aircraft crashed after encountering a technical malfunction.

Eslami said Iran will not hand over the black boxes recovered from the crash site to Boeing or any other countries.

According to the minister, Iranian technicians and experts from the American aerospace company Boeing will recover data from the black boxes in Iran.

“There are rumors that a terrorist attack, explosion or shooting at the plane may have caused the incident, but they are not true. Technical failure has been the cause of the incident,” Eslami said.

“Had the rumors been true, the plane must have exploded up in the air, but that has not happened, because the plane caught fire due to technical failure. That first caused its communications and control systems to stop working, and subsequently resulted in its crash,” he added.

These have been witnessed and confirmed by eyewitnesses as well, the minister said.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight, en route to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed hours after Iran fired missiles at bases housing US forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.

Meanwhile, foreign intelligence sources also believe that the crash – which killed all the 179 on board – was likely caused by a technical malfunction.

Five security sources – three Americans, one European and one Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters that based on initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies, the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile.

There was evidence one of the jet’s engines had overheated, the Canadian source said.

The crash comes at a difficult time for planemaker Boeing Co, which has grounded its 737 MAX fleet after two crashes.

Ukrainian passenger jet crashes in Iran, all 179 on board dead

The 737-800 is one of the world’s most-flown models with a good safety record and does not have the software feature implicated in crashes of the 737 MAX.

“We are in contact with our airline customers and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed,” the manufacturer said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

It declined further comment. Its shares fell 1.1% on Wednesday.

In Paris on Wednesday morning, the maker of the plane’s engines, French-US firm CFM – co-owned by General Electric Co and France’s Safran – said speculation regarding the cause was premature.

Smouldering parts and debris, including shoes and clothes, were strewn across a field southwest of the Iranian capital, where rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

It was Kiev-based Ukraine International Airlines’ first fatal crash, and the carrier said it was doing everything possible to establish the cause.

Ukraine said it was sending a team of experts to Iran to investigate. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had instructed Ukraine’s prosecutor general to open criminal proceedings, without specifying who they would involve.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would “continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated” and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States was calling for complete cooperation with any investigation into cause of the crash.

Under international rules, responsibility for investigating the crash lies with Iran. Iranian state television said both of the plane’s black box voice and data recorders had been found.

The head of Iran’s civil aviation organization said it was not clear which country Iran would send the black boxes to for analysis of the data, but it would not give them to Boeing.

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