There’s a lot we don’t know about what caused a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 to crash shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning. But two things are already abundantly clear.
First, a number of people who should know better are spewing baloney when they say they know what didn’t happen. Second, what is known so far is consistent with a possible missile strike considering Iran’s launch of 22 missiles just hours earlier. This doesn’t prove anything, it is simply a hunch worth sussing out.
In a video posted on Twitter, a ball of light can be seen streaming across the night sky, before erupting into an enormous explosion and fire on impact. During the flight, some large pieces appear to separate from the fireball before it hits the ground.
نخستین ویدئو از سقوط هواپیمای اوکراینی اطراف شهریار pic.twitter.com/M3bZiLLryQ
— خبرگزاری ایسنا (@isna_farsi) January 8, 2020
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 en route to Kyiv with 176 people on board had reached 7-thousand feet when things went amiss. That there was no communication from the crew could mean many things including that whatever happened was totally unexpected which would be consistent with a missile strike. Something could have gotten lost in the translation to English but London’s Telegraph reported that a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry speaking about the disaster said “it appeared a fire struck one” of the plane’s two engines. This description would also be consistent with a missile strike as heat-seeking missiles would lock on to an airliner’s engines.
All of the above is speculation based on early reports some second and third hand. It would certainly be a logical avenue of investigation to look into the possibility of a missile strike given the activity going on in the country immediately before the airliner took off and made a fiery plunge.
If anyone needs to be reminded, dozens of airliners have been felled by missiles, sometimes inadvertently. The most recent was the destruction of Malaysia Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014. The evidence seemed to indict pro-Russian separatists. In 2001, it was Ukraine that was responsible for bringing down a Siberian Airlines Flight with a surface to air missile during a military exercise. Seventy-eight people died on that one.
Another notable case was the downing of Iranian Air Flight 655 traveling from Tehran to Dubai in 1988 with 290 people on board. The crew of the US Navy ship Vincennes erroneously identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an Iranian Air Force F-14.
So the discussion of this possibility is within the realm of reason.
Eyewitnesses can be forgiven for creative thinking when they report, as some in Iran have done, that “the pilot steered the plane towards a football field to avoid a residential area.” Its less understandable when the officials talk like that. For example, a spokesperson for the airline said, “Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”
With both the flight data and cockpit voice recorder recovered it won’t take long to get meaningful information about what happened to the flight.
Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration issued orders to all U.S. air carriers, commercial operators and operators of aircraft registered in the United States to avoid swaths of airspace in the region including over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
OpsGroup, an information and risk analysis sharing service for business operators passed along the FAA’s order along with news from its own members that N-registered aircraft were “being told to exit the Tehran FIR immediately, by Iranian ATC.”
This was the email that greeted me when I turned my phone on upon landing in Madrid shortly after the Ukranian crash. It prompted me to cancel my onward travel to Oman for the present, though my British Airways flight took off as scheduled.
Singapore, China Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Emirates and others have all reported they are either re-routing or canceling flights.
With the ballistic missiles that landed on US bases in Iraq appearing not to have caused injuries or significant damage, “Iran now appears to be standing down,” President Trump announced at midday. That may well be the case but if the loss of Ukrainian International and its occupants is somehow tied to the messy dispute between Iran and the US, the tension could ratchet right back up again.