Ukrainian Airlines Cockpit Recordings Reveal Passengers Alive After First Missile Strike

Data retrieved from the black box recorder—which contains recordings from the cockpit of the aircraft—of the Ukrainian Airlines passenger plane targeted by two missiles that killed all 176 people on board earlier this year, recorded "up to 19 seconds" of conversation after the first missile struck. The second missile hit 25 seconds later, the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran (CAOI) confirmed at a press conference Sunday.

The Boeing 737 aircraft crashed shortly after taking off in Iran back in January. Initial reports suggested the plane crashed due to a technical malfunction. But it was later confirmed the plane was shot down by two missiles launched by the Iranian military after reportedly mistaking the aircraft for a missile, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The crash took place on the same day as Iran's missile strike on the Ayn al-Asad Air Base and other targets in Iraq. Iran's Revolutionary Guard claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The head of the Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran (CAOI), Capt. Touraj Dehghani Zangeneh, confirmed that "up to 19 seconds" of conversation between two pilots and a pilot instructor was captured by the black box recorder after the first missile struck the plane.

"25 seconds later that the second missile hit the plane", he added, noting: "They were piloting the plane until the last moment."

He noted the first missile explosion sent shrapnel into the aircraft, which likely disrupted the plane's recorders, AP reported.

The plane was "in a normal flight corridor" before the first missile exploded, according to the black box data.

"At this moment, the plane has an electrical problem and the auxiliary power of the plane is turned on at the order of the pilot instructor. Both engines were on in the seconds after the explosion.

"No sound was heard from the passenger cabin at that moment...the recording stopped after 19 seconds," Capt. Zanganeh said.

No further details of the cockpit conversation were revealed.

Last month, an initial report following an investigation indicated a misaligned missile battery, miscommunication between military troops and their commanders as well as a decision to fire without authorization were deemed to have led to the fatal shooting of the passenger jet, the AP reported.

The report claimed the surface-to-air missile battery that targeted the aircraft had been relocated and was not properly reoriented. Those operating the missile battery, who reportedly could not communicate with their command center at the time, were said to have mistaken the civilian plane as a threat and opened fire twice without approval from officials, the report said, according to the AP.

In June, the black box recorder was sent to Paris, the French capital, to be examined by international investigators, the AP reported.

Representatives from countries whose citizens were killed in the crash—the U.S., Ukraine, France, Canada, the U.K. and Sweden—were reported to be present during the process of gathering the black box data, Capt. Zangeneh confirmed.

"Data recovery activity was all done with the aim of safety and preventing similar incidents," the captain said, warning against "any political use of the process."

He also noted that Iran's airspace is now "safe and ready" for international flights, AP reported.

The latest revelations come amid the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, which has killed at least 20,502 people in Iran, the highest death toll in the Middle East and the 10th-highest in the world, according to the latest report Sunday by Johns Hopkins University.

The country also faced continued U.S. sanctions during the pandemic, which earlier this year were described as "medical terrorism" by the country's Foreign Ministry.

A spokesperson for the ministry, Seyed Abbas Mousavi, back in April accused the Trump administration of "putting Iranians' health at risk through economic and medical terrorism" and "committing crimes against humanity."

The Trump administration dismissed the claims at the time, noting the sanctions made allowances for medical supplies.

Last Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced he was seeking to restore international sanctions against Iran which were lifted from Iran in the wake of a 2015 nuclear deal the White House abandoned in 2018.

Ukrainian Airlines plane crash, Tehran, Iran 2020
Rescue teams seen at the scene of the Ukrainian Airlines plane crash in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 8, 2020. Akbar Tavakoli/Irna/AFP via Getty Images