Flight 752: As evidence accumulates, Iran denies missile hit
The Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which crashed in Iran on January 8, 2020, was allegedly shot down by an Iranian air defense system, as claimed by several U.S and British media quoting intelligence sources. Hours after the information was disclosed, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, was the first to confirm publicly having received similar indications from international allies and the Canadian intelligence service. "This may well have been unintentional," Trudeau said.
Reacting to the declaration, the Iranian authorities have ruled out that hypothesis. "One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile," Ali Abedzadeh, chief of the Civil Aviation Organization of Iran (CAO), said during a press conference.
Complying with international regulations, the organization reaffirmed its invitation for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine (NBAA) to participate in the crash investigation. Besides, because the engines were partly manufactured by the company Safran (along with General Electric), the French Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety (BEA) was also invited; a spokesperson of the organization confirmed its participation.
The CAO intends to download the data of the voice and flight recorders itself but did not rule out asking for technical assistance from Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine if needed. After the flight recorders have been recovered from the crash site by the Iranian search and rescue services, the authorities announced they would not hand them to the United States. Both flight recorders were damaged by the crash and the ensuing fire, according to the CAO, which said that the memory should be accessible nonetheless. The analysis could take a month.
A video, allegedly showing flight PS752 being hit by a missile, was analyzed by the investigative journalism team of Bellingcat, who was responsible for tracing back the origin of the weapon system that downed MH17. The footage shows an object, presumably a missile fired by a Tor-M1 surface-to-air system, impacting another object at high speed, which consequently catches fire and changes trajectory.
Using the surrounding structures, Bellingcat and Newsy localized the position of the onlooker in a residential area west of Tehran, which corresponds to the last known position of the flight PS752 before its transponder stopped emitting. The change of trajectory also matches the location of the crash site. The airplane was traveling near an Iranian missile base close to the city of Malard when it was hit.
The reason for someone to be filming the flight could be explained by the launches of two missiles. Indeed, U.S. intelligence sources told CBC that according to their satellite infrared readings, at least two launches were detected. The first missile may have missed or hit a non-critical part of the aircraft, and caught the attention of the recording witness.
Data seem to show that the transponder was not emitting anymore by the time the second missile hit its target, which could hint at previous damages. The fact that the plane did not explode is not contradictory to two missile hits. At this altitude, the cabin of the aircraft was likely not pressurized yet, thus the damage could cause no explosive decompression.
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