Iran Admits to Accidentally Shooting Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet, After Previously Blaming Mechanical Issue

Iran admitted that its military was behind the crash of a Ukrainian jetliner leaving the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran, Iran Tuesday. On Saturday morning local time, it was announced on state TV that the downing of the jet was unintentional.

In a statement cited by the Associated Press, Iran said "human error" was behind Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 being shot down shortly after leaving for Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. According to the statement, the plane was thought to be a "hostile target" after it flew toward a "sensitive military center" of the Revolutionary Guard.

Given that the plane crash happened the same day as Iran's missile attack on bases in Iraq, the Iranian military was at its "highest level of readiness."

"In such a condition, because of human error and in a unintentional way, the flight was hit," the statement said, as translated by the Associated Press. The statement also claimed that the people responsible for shooting down the jet would be prosecuted.

This is a change from Iran's previous claims that the crash was the result of a fire that broke out on one of the jet's engines shortly after takeoff. At the time, Qassem Binaz told the state-run IRNA news agency that the fire then caused the pilot to lose control.

As Newsweek previously reported, Pentagon and Iraqi intelligence officials both said that the jet, a Boeing 737-800, had been hit by an anti-aircraft missile system. One Pentagon and one U.S. senior intelligence official told Newsweek the Pentagon believed the plane was not shot down intentionally. The jet was believed to have been hit by a Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile system, also known as Gauntlet, officials told Newsweek on Thursday.

ukrainian crash
Rescue teams recover debris from a field after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. AFP/Getty

Suspicions that the plane had been shot down were shared almost immediately after the crash. On Wednesday, CNN's Anderson Cooper suggested that the plane's downing could be linked to "military activity in Iran."

"The fact that there was military activity in Iran, and, you know, the missile attacks into Iraq, it's obviously either a coincidence or there is some linkage there in some way," Cooper said.

Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California blamed President Donald Trump on Thursday for the crash, citing "collateral damage" caused by the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 2.

"If what is being projected is true, this is yet another example of collateral damage from the actions that have been taken in a provocative way by the president of the United States," Speier said.

Of the 176 people who died in the crash, 167 were passengers, and nine were crew members. Many of the passengers were Canadian, as the flight was heading to Toronto with a layover in Kyiv. Earlier reports said 63 passengers were Canadian, however that number has been lowered to "at least 57" by the Canadian government. The other passengers on the plane included 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians—including all nine of the crew members.