Ukrainian Embassy Retracts Statement Blaming Iran Plane Crash on Engine Failure

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has ordered a criminal investigation into the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines plane near the Iranian capital on Wednesday morning, as the country's embassy in Tehran hastened to retract its initial response to the tragedy.

The plane was carrying at least 176 people to Kiev when it crashed shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini international. The aircraft left the airport just after 6.10 a.m. Tehran time and crashed some five minutes later, according to Iranian officials.

Ukraine's embassy in Iran initially issued a statement saying the aircraft was brought down engine failure, not because of terrorism or a missile strike.

But a short time later, that web page disappeared and was replaced with another that said the cause would be determined by an investigative commission. "Any statements regarding the causes of the accident prior to the decision of the commission are not official," it explained.

Zelenskiy, meanwhile, warned against "speculation or unchecked theories regarding the catastrophe" until official reports had been completed, the BBC noted.

Iranian emergency official Pir Hossein Kulivand and Iran's Red Crescent have said there are no survivors from the crash. Kulivand said that 147 of the dead were Iranian citizens.

The crash occurred as Iran launched ballistic missiles at two military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. There is no indication that the two events are linked.

Elliot Higgins—the founder of journalism website Bellingcat that investigated the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014—dismissed speculation that photos of the debris indicated that Wednesday's crash was caused by anti-aircraft fire.

Referring to damage on some parts of debris, Higgins wrote on Twitter that "in my mind it's most likely to be debris from the aircraft itself that caused the damage…the wing damage shown doesn't indicate AA was used against the Ukrainian aircraft."

Iranian civil aviation spokesperson Reza Jafarzadeh said that the plane went down some five minutes after leaving the airport.

"The pilot had no contact with the tower and didn't announce an emergency situation before the crash," he added, according to the The Guardian.

Footage shared on Twitter reportedly showed the plane falling from the sky early on Wednesday. Circulated by the ISNA news agency, the video showed a large fireball in the distance as the aircraft hit the ground.

The Associated Press reported that the aircraft crashed on farmland. Reporters at the scene described emergency officials working amid a field of debris and bodies.

The plane was a Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The company—which has been grappling with safety concerns related to its 737 Max aircraft—released a short statement on Twitter saying it was "aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information" on the incident.

Zelenskiy has cut short a visit to Oman to return to Kiev. The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Dmytro Razumkov, said on Facebook, "Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims."

Iran is already on edge following weeks of tensions with the U.S. in neighboring Iraq. Wednesday's plane crash came soon after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles against military bases in Iraq hosting American troops, in retaliation for last week's assassination of top Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the strike—which appears to have inflicted no American or Iraqi casualties—was conducted "in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter." He added, "We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression."

This article has been updated to note that the Ukrainian embassy has retracted its initial explanation of the cause of crash.

Ira, Ukraine, plane, crash, Tehran, engine, failure
Journalists stand amid the wreckage of a Ukrainian plane that crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital of Tehran on January 8, 2020. -/AFP via Getty Images/Getty