Tehran, January 11: Iran on Saturday said it unintentionally shot down the Ukrainian airliner that crashed this week killing 176 people, calling it an “unforgivable mistake”.
The Ukraine International Airlines plane came down on Wednesday 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.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted.
“Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people,” he added.
“Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake.”
Earlier, Iran’s official IRNA news agency had published a statement from the military saying the Boeing 737 was mistaken for a “hostile plane” at a time when enemy threats were at the highest level.
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 after several Western governments blamed a missile strike.
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.
Washington has said the Soleimani strike was carried out to prevent “imminent”, large-scale attacks on US embassies. Iran had vowed “severe revenge” for Soleimani before launching missiles at the bases in Iraq.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted.
“Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.” Iran has invited the United States, Ukraine, Canada and others to join the crash investigation.
The majority of passengers on UIA Flight PS752 which had just taken off from Tehran were Iranian-Canadian dual nationals but also included Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons and Swedes.
It 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.
Video footage of the UIA 737, which the New York Times said it had verified, emerged and appeared to show the moment the airliner was hit.
A fast-moving object is seen rising at an angle into the sky before a bright flash appears, which dims and then continues moving forward. Several seconds later, an explosion is heard and the sky lights up.
Many airlines from around the world cancelled flights to and Iran in the wake of the crash, or rerouted flights away from Iranian airspace.
Nations around the world have called for restraint and de-escalation, and fears of a full-blown conflict have subsided after US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that Iran appeared to be standing down after targeting the US bases in Iraq.
Ukraine demands punishment for Iran plane downing
Ukraine on Saturday demanded that Iran punish those guilty for the downing of a Ukrainian airliner and compensate victims while praising Tehran for cooperating with the “objective” investigation.
Ukrainian president Volodomyr Zelensky was due to discuss the incident with his Iranian counterpart President Hassan Rouhani at 5:00 pm local time, his press office said.
“We expect Iran… To bring the guilty to the courts,” the Ukrainian leader wrote on Facebook, calling also for the “payment of compensation” and the return of remains.
Tehran admitted Saturday that it accidentally downed the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane, killing all 176 people on board on Wednesday, shortly after launching missiles at bases hosting US forces in Iraq.
Rouhani said Tehran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.
Tehran has invited the United States, Ukraine, Canada and others to join the crash investigation.
Kiev said that Iran had cooperated with its experts and it expects an objective probe.
Tehran has handed Ukrainian experts enough data including “all the photos, videos and other materials” to show the investigation “will be carried out objectively and promptly,” Zelensky’s office said.
“The political part of the work is finished,” it added.
It published photos of experts examining the scene and close-ups of holes in the fuselage and shrapnel damage.
Ukraine said Friday its experts 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.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, which is coordinating the probe, told AFP Kiev did not yet have evidence on where the missile was produced, only that it was “launched from Iranian soil.”
Zelensky said earlier that Ukraine hoped the inquiry would be pursued “without deliberate delay and without obstruction.” He urged “total access” to the full inquiry for the 45 Ukrainian experts, and in a tweet also sought an “official apology”.
UIA chief Yevhenii Dykhne said at a press conference in Kiev on Saturday that Tehran should have closed the airport due to the escalation of tensions in the region following the US assassination of a top Iranian general.
“It’s absolutely irresponsible… If you’re playing at war, they were obliged to close the airport,” Dykhne said.
He wrote on Facebook that the Ukrainian crew and the aircraft “were the best.” Iran’s official IRNA news agency published a statement from the military saying the Boeing 737 was mistaken for a “hostile plane” at a time when threats were at the highest level.
The majority of passengers on UIA Flight PS752 from Tehran to Kiev were Iranian-Canadian dual nationals but also included Ukrainians, Afghans, Britons and Swedes Many in Kiev have compared the crash to the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 killing 298 people over eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists are fighting government forces.
Moscow has denied the findings of international investigators that a Russian BUK misile hit the Malaysian flight.
“Iran has shown itself to be more civilised than Russia,” pro-western Ukraine MP Volodymyr Ariev wrote on Facebook.
“Tehran has admitted its guilt in three days while Russia continues to try to get out of it.”