Iran admitted that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner that it mistook for a threat during hostilities with the US, marking a dramatic reversal after insisting that the deadly crash was caused by mechanical failure.
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was flying close to a “sensitive” Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps military site when it was downed because of “human error,” the army said after conducting its own investigation. IRGC officials will elaborate on the crash on state media, it said.
It promised that the “culprits” would be identified and referred to judicial authorities.
“Iran’s armed forces went on high alert following U.S. threats to target Iranian sites,” the army said. “Under such highly sensitive and critical circumstances, the Boeing Flight 752 flew close to a sensitive IRGC military site at an altitude and angle that made it look like a hostile target. The plane was hit due to human error and unintentionally.”
A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces:
Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster
Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2020
As recently as Friday, Iran denied that it had fired a missile at the plane and accused western governments of “psychological warfare.” Officials in multiple western countries have said they believe it was shot down accidentally. A US spy satellite detected the firing of two SA-15 surface-to-air missiles, a person familiar with the intelligence said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif blamed “human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism” for the disaster, according to a post on Twitter.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday night.
There are no obvious military sites visible on satellite photos of the plane’s flight path. A power plant and an industrial park are in the area where the Ukrainian jet stopped transmitting its position, as well as large areas of undeveloped land, according to Google.
The plane appeared to fly on a normal path to the northwest of the airport on the same heading as the runway from which it departed, according to the flight-tracking service FlightRadar24.
If flew straight for just over two minutes after takeoff, according to the company. At that point, it made a slight turn to the right and continued for another 42 seconds.
The three-year-old Boeing Co. 737-800 abruptly stopped transmitting its position and plunged to the ground. The crash occurred hours after the Islamic Republic started launching rockets against Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed, in retaliation for the killing of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.
The disaster adds to a list of accidental shootings of civilian aircraft.
A DHL cargo jet in 2003 was struck by a surface-fired missile shortly after taking off from Baghdad during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing. No one was hurt.
In 1988, a U.S. Navy missile cruiser, the U.S.S. Vincennes, downed an Iran Air Airbus A300 over the Gulf, killing 290 passengers and crew. The U.S. military said it mistook the airliner for an Iranian fighter jet, an account disputed by Iran.
A Ukrainian air-defense station accidentally shot down a Siberian Airlines jet over the Black Sea in 2001, killing the 78 passengers and crew on board. Russian investigators concluded that the Ukrainian forces had fired two missiles at a drone as part of a military exercise, and one of them flew 150 miles past its target and detonated near the airliner, causing it to plunge into the sea, the New York Times reported at the time.
The July 2014 episode involving the Malaysian Airlines plane has been one of the most well documented cases. The Boeing Co. 777 carrying 298 people was shot down by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. The region is the site of a conflict between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian military forces and two military aircraft had been downed just days earlier, an international team concluded.