Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashes outside Tehran airport killing all on board

A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people — including passengers and crew — crashed Wednesday morning shortly after takeoff near the airport in Tehran, killing all on board and turning farmland on the outskirts of the capital into fields of flaming debris, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office confirmed.

Iranian state-run IRNA news agency reported the plane crashed just minutes after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport. The flight was bound for the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. All 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations perished, both Iranian emergency officials and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry Vadym Prystaiko said.

No Americans were killed in the crash, Ukraine’s foreign minister said. Three Britons, three Germans, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, 11 Ukrainians, 82 Iranians and four Afghans died.

The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines flight came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash happen outside his home.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said one of the plane’s engines caught fire, causing the pilot to lose control of the aircraft, sending it crashing to the ground. Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, added that it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight.

Zelensky offered his “sincere condolences to family and loved ones of all passengers and crew members.” In a Facebook post, his office added that the Ukrainian embassy in Tehran will provide a complete list of the dead.  He also cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kiev after the incident.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk confirmed the casualty toll and offered Ukrainian assistance with the Iranian-led investigation into the cause of the crash.

“We’re preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” Honcharuk said. In a Facebook statement, Ukrainian parliament speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, also said “Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims.”

The majority of the passengers were Iranian nationals, Russia’s RIA Novosti agency reported, citing Iranian authorities. Staff at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv, where the plane was headed, told The Associated Press that passengers on this flight are usually Iranian students coming back to Ukraine after winter holidays.

The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) shared a video online that claims to show the plane catch fire as it descends. The video was not independently confirmed.

Pir Hossein Kulivand, an Iranian emergency official, told state TV rescuers were trying to collect the dead. A photo published by the Iranian state-run IRNA news agency showed rescue officials in a farm field, with what appeared to be pieces of the aircraft laying nearby.

An investigation team was at the site of the crash in southwestern outskirts of Tehran, civil aviation spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said.

“After taking off from Imam Khomeini international airport it crashed between Parand and Shahriar,” Jafarzadeh said. “An investigation team from the national aviation department was dispatched to the location after the news was announced.”

Debris is seen from a plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (AP Photos/Mohammad Nasiri)
Debris is seen from a plane crash on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (AP Photos/Mohammad Nasiri)

Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.

“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevhen Dykhne, president of the Ukraine International Airlines, said at a briefing following the crash.

The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, then stopped sending data almost immediately afterward and never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

In a statement Boeing simply said: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The Boeing 737-800 is a very common single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights. Thousands of the type of plane are used by airlines around the world. Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes.

Leave a reply