'I Wish I Had Died' Instead of Seeing Ukranian Airlines Crash, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Commander Says

An Iranian commander has said he wishes he had died instead of learning his forces caused the fatal crash of a Ukrainian passenger jet, as he confirmed human error had caused the tragedy. A total 176 passengers and crew died on Wednesday when the airliner was hit by anti-aircraft fire and plummeted to the ground minutes after departing from the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Speaking during a press conference on Saturday after Iran admitted to accidentally shooting down the Ukranian International Airlines flight, Amir Ali Hajizadeh said according to a translation: "I wish I had died and I wouldn't have seen such an incident." Hajizadeh, commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), told reporters he was in western Iran at the time of the crash, after his country attacked a U.S. base in neighboring Iraq in retaliation to the killing of a top commander.

Hajizadeh said the IRGC accepts all responsibility for the incident, and is ready to implement changes suggested by the authorities. Members of the IRGC give their lives to serving the Iranian people, Hajizadeh said, and the incident had marred the country's reputation with God. He said he was appearing in front of cameras to detail what led to the accident.

The country's air defense system had mistaken the Ukrainian passenger jet for a cruise missile, the commander said. He explained a request had been made to clear the sky of civil aircrafts at that time, but this had not happened for reasons he did not specify.

The operator of the air defense system was alerted that a cruise missile had been fired at sites in Iran, and identified the plane as such. The operator needed permission to respond, but didn't receive this due to a problem with the communication line. Hajizadeh revealed the operator made the decision to hit the target within 10 seconds. An individual's error had caused the tragedy, he said.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh,Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division,tehran,
General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division, speaks at Tehran's Islamic Revolution and Holy Defence museum on September 21, 2019. On Saturday, Hajizadeh revealed details surrounding a Ukrainian airline crash in Iran, which killed 176 people. ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Explaining why Iran initially denied reports that one if its missiles had targeted the aircraft, the commander said officials were not aware of these circumstances at the time. When the details surrounding the downing of the plane became clear, Iran's Armed Forces were informed and were able to conclude their investigation, he said.

Earlier on Saturday, Iran's military said in a statement to the official IRNA news agency that its airforce defense units had been on high alert after the U.S. killed Soleimani.

During "a sensitive and critical situation" the Ukraine aircraft had "moved very close to a sensitive military spot" belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, according to the statement. The "altitude and the direction of the flight's movement were like an enemy target," it said.

Following the admission, 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 said investigations into the incident will continue, and those responsible will be prosecuted for "this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake." Rouhani also offered his "sincerest condolences" to families mourning the dead.

The Iranian foreigh affairs minister Javad Zarif suggested the U.S. was partly to blame for the deaths because it had increased tensions between the two nations.

"Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster," he wrote, adding: "Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations."