Flight PS752: Iran concludes UIA plane shot down after a human mistake

LLBG Spotter

The Civil Aviation Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran published its final report of the shootdown of Ukraine International flight PS752. It confirms a “human error” was made while setting up a radar of the air defense system of Tehran.

On January 8, 2020, a Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran International Airport, Iran, killing the 176 people on board. Among the 176 people, 82 were Iranians, while 63 were Canadians who were flying back home via Ukraine. The rest of the deceased were Ukrainian, Swedish, and British nationals.

After a few days of denial, the Iranian authorities eventually admitted that the aircraft was shot down. An operator of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), stationed in Bid Kaneh, mistook the commercial flight for an incoming threat and fired two missiles from a Tor-M1 surface-to-air system.

The final report confirms the findings published in a preliminary report released on July 11, 2020. “On January 08, 2020, one of the air defense units [ADU] of Tehran was locally relocated for the last time in order of 100 meters according to tactics of mobile ADUs,” the investigators explained, based on military sources. “This relocation clearly caused a change in the ADU’s heading and therefore the ADU suffered an error of 105 degrees due to operators’ failure in conducting north realignment properly.” Because of that mistake, the path of Flight PS752 was shown as heading straight for Tehran, instead of away from the city. 

Missile defense systems were on high alert around Tehran that night. Hours before the crash, the Iranian military had launched over 12 missiles on U.S. bases in Iraq, in reprisal of the death of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian special services, in a drone strike. The Iran military was expecting retaliation from the United States.

The operator detected the target, considered the flight path as threatening, and reported it to the Coordination Center. For an unexplained reason, the report did not go through. Despite the lack of answer, and without a direct order, the operator fired the first missile at the airliner, then the second one forty seconds later. The concording times of the first missile fuse activation and the termination of the aircraft radio signals seem to indicate that the first shot was the one that proved fatal. Investigators could not conclude if the second missile failed its target or not.

As the main cause of the incident was a mistake from an IRGC, the exact nature of the corrective actions taken by the Iran Military authorities is unknown. A revision was made to the procedure to issue NOTAM faster about “any change in Tehran FIR airspace management that results from the outcome of a conducted security risk assessment or military instructions.”

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