Iran plane crash amid rumors as U.S.-Iran tensions swirl

As investigators examine the wreckage of a Boeing plane that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran, there have been conflicting reports about the cause of the crash. A crash on a Ukrainian international airliner carrying 176 people crashed early Wednesday, initially caused by a technical fault, but later said the crash was most likely caused by an engine fire. The Ukrainian Embassy in Tehran first ruled out the terrorist attack and later revised the statement, without mentioning the possible cause of the crash.

The jet, which has been flying for only three years, did not make an emergency call before it crashed, and the global positioning transmission system was cut off in the air, a rarity in a crash case.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have hampered the investigation of the accident.

Iran plane crash amid rumors as U.S.-Iran tensions swirl

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which is usually invited to participate in crashes related to U.S.-made airliners, issued a cautious statement saying it was monitoring the situation. Under long-standing sanctions against Iran, the NTSB must obtain special prior permission to participate in any investigation in Iran.

The Tehran Disaster Reduction and Disaster Management Organization said preliminary assessments indicated that the crash was caused by a technical problem, and Iran’s transport ministry said the fire was the cause of the crash.

A senior aviation accident investigator said flight tracking data and non-professional footage showed it did not look like a normal engine failure or fire.

Complicating the Iranian crash was the fact that Iranian officials had not yet clarified the extent to which U.S. experts were involved in the investigation and to what extent the 737’s flight data recorders were available.

An Iranian official quoted an official of the Iran Civil Aviation Organization as saying the pilot was not in a hurry.

Ukraine International Airlines said the plane crashed at 6:18 a.m. local time in Sabashahr, near Tehran, with 167 passengers and nine crew members on board.

The aircraft model does not use the flight control system of the 737 Max that caused several crashes.

According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24. The plane took off and climbed to an altitude of about 7,900 feet (2,408 meters) and flew at a speed of about 300 miles per hour (483), then suddenly stopped transmitting position signals and disappeared. FlightRadar24 spokesman Ian Petchenik said tracking information on other flights near Tehran was normal.

Television footage showed the wreckage strewn across the charred land at the crash site, where search and rescue efforts were under way. Ukraine’s foreign ministry said about half of the people on board were Iranian citizens, as well as more than 60 Canadian citizens, as well as Swedes, Afghans, Britons and Ukrainians.

Ihor Sosnovskyi, vice president of Ukraine International Airlines, said in Kiev that the new Boeing aircraft, delivered in 2016, was in good condition and was last repaired on January 6. He said the crew was also very experienced and there was no indication of human error, and he declined to comment on the possible cause of the crash. This is the first time the company has crashed since it was founded in 1992.

Under international law, since the crash took place in Iran, it was up to Iran to lead an investigation into the crash. Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said the Ukrainian government had informed Iran that Ukrainian experts should be involved in the accident investigation.

However, few countries in the world have the experience and technical conditions to conduct a full investigation into such an accident, so in such cases the United States, France or other countries usually lend a helping hand. For example, the information in the black box of the crashed plane must be downloaded in a special laboratory, which has few such laboratories worldwide.

International rules also allow the country of manufacture of the crashed aircraft to participate in the investigation of the crash, and the aircraft manufacturer can provide technical support. But the current political tensions between Iran and the United States could make it harder for the NTSB and Boeing to participate in the investigation.

Black box

Hassan Rezaeifar, head of the ICAO accident investigation office, said it was up to Iran to decide how and where the plane’s black boxes should be decoded, according to the semi-official Iran News Agency ISNA.

However, Reza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the aviation group, told Bloomberg that Iran’s compliance with international agreements and that Ukraine “as well as aircraft manufacturers” could participate in the investigation.

Sebastien Barthe, a spokesman for the French Air AccidentS (BEA), said Iran had not yet contacted the BEA, but that it had helped Iran in the past.

The tragedy, for Both Iran and Boeing, was nothing less than a night of rain.

Iran retaliated against the killing of its top military commander, Suleimani, by the United States last week, and on Wednesday fired more than a dozen missiles at a U.S. air base in Iraq. Wednesday’s crash comes after U.S. civil aviation regulators issued new restrictions barring civilian flights from crossing Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement offering assistance to Ukraine. “The United States calls on all parties to cooperate fully with any investigation into the cause of the crash,” he said.

Boeing Crisis

Boeing was already in the midst of the deepest crisis in history after two serious crashes, the 737 Max, the company’s best-selling aircraft involved in the two crashes, has been grounded around the world for 10 months. Boeing was with the crew, passengers and their families after the tragedy, but Boeing did not comment on the cause of the crash, the company said in a statement. Boeing’s shares fell more than 2 per cent at one point in the session.

The Boeing 737-800 took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport on Wednesday morning, local time, as it prepared to fly to Kiev’s Borispol International Airport, according to flight tracking website flightradar24.

The engine of the single-aisle aircraft is produced by CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and Saifeng Group. A representative for the company declined to comment on the details or reveal the possible cause of the crash, saying in an email that CFM extended its deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones of the victims.