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Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752
An October 2019 photograph of UR-PSR, the aircraft involved in the incident
|Date||8 January 2020 (2020-01-08)|
|Summary||Shot down by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) surface-to-air missiles|
|Site||Khalajabad, Shahriar County, Tehran Province, Iran
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-8KV|
|Operator||Ukraine International Airlines|
|IATA flight No.||PS752|
|ICAO flight No.||AUI752|
|Call sign||UKRAINE INTERNATIONAL 752|
|Flight origin||Imam Khomeini International Airport, Tehran|
|Destination||Boryspil International Airport, Kiev|
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752) was a scheduled international passenger flight from Tehran to Kiev operated by Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). On 8 January 2020, the Boeing 737-800 operating the route was shot down shortly after takeoff from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. All 176 passengers and crew were killed; it was the first fatal air accident for Ukraine International Airlines.
It was shot down by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which attributed it to human error, with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani describing the accident as an "unforgivable mistake". Iranian aviation authorities initially denied the airplane was hit by a missile and said a technical error was responsible, while Ukrainian authorities, after initially deferring to Iran's explanation, said a shoot-down of the flight was one of their main working theories. Investigation by western intelligence agencies and the general public had revealed the aircraft had been shot down by a Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile launched by Iran, then three days later, on 11 January, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said they had shot down the aircraft after mistaking it for a cruise missile; they fired two surface-to-air missiles on the aircraft.
The incident occurred during the 2019–20 Persian Gulf crisis, at a time of heightened tensions five days after U.S. president Donald Trump ordered a drone strike (which killed Iranian major general Qasem Soleimani) in Iraq in retaliation for the breaching of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad by Iranian Militia Group Kataib Hezbollah and hours after Iran's retaliatory ballistic missile attacks. It was preceded by an order from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that all American civilian aircraft avoid Iranian airspace and was followed by similar orders by several other nations and airlines including Ukraine. Experts have questioned Iran's decision to not close its airspace after launching missiles; General Amir Ali Hajizadeh said a request had been made for a no-fly zone before the incident but this request was rejected. Later, The New York Times reported that Iranian officials feared that shutting down the airport would create mass panic that war with the United States was imminent, and they also hoped that the presence of passenger jets could act as a deterrent against an American attack on the airport or the nearby military base, "effectively turning planeloads of unsuspecting travelers into human shields." As a result of the aircraft shoot down and perceived government deception, mass protests broke out in Iran calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
The crash came about four hours after Iran launched retaliatory missile strikes on U.S. positions in Iraq for the killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani. Iran was on the highest state of defensive alert and, according to Commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Amir Ali Hajizadeh, was "totally prepared for a full-fledged war".
Flight and crash
The flight was operated by Ukraine International Airlines, the flag carrier and the largest airline of Ukraine, on a scheduled flight from the Iranian capital Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport to Boryspil International Airport in the Ukrainian capital Kiev. Emergency officials confirmed that the aircraft was carrying 176 people, including nine crew members. Fifteen of the passengers were children.
Flight 752 was scheduled to take off at 05:15 local time (UTC+3:30), but was delayed. It departed Stand 116 and took off from Runway 29R at 06:12:08 local time and was expected to land in Kiev at 08:00 local time (UTC+2:00). The final ADS-B data received was at 06:14:57, less than three minutes after departure.
According to the data, the last recorded altitude was at 2,416 metres (7,925 ft) above mean sea level with a ground speed of 275 knots (509 km/h). The airport is 1,007 metres (3,305 ft) above mean sea level, but the ground around Parand and the crash site is several hundred feet higher. The flight was climbing at just under 3000 ft/min when the flight data record abruptly ended over the open ground near the northern end of Enqelab Eslami Boulevard in Parand. Analysis of several videos by the New York Times shows that aircraft was hit almost immediately by the first of two short-range missiles (which knocked out its transponder) launched thirty seconds apart by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and with the aircraft having maintained its track, by the second missile some 23 seconds later, after which it veers right and can be seen aflame before disappearing from view. Ukrainian investigators believe the pilots were killed instantly by shrapnel from the missile which exploded near the cockpit.
The precise track of the aircraft is unknown from that point until about a minute before it crashes, when several videos record its last seconds. The aircraft crashed on a park and fields on the edge of the village of Khalajabad 15 kilometres (9.3 mi; 8.1 nmi) north-west of the airport, and about 10 miles (16 km; 8.7 nmi) ENE of the last missile strike about 7 minutes after takeoff, but did not cause any casualties on the ground.
Shortly after the crash, emergency responders arrived with 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances, and a helicopter, but intense fires prevented a rescue attempt. The wreckage was strewn over a wide area, with no survivors found at the crash site. The aircraft was destroyed on impact.
The aircraft was a Boeing 737-8KV, serial number 38124, registration UR-PSR. It was three and a half years old at the time of it being shot down, having first flown on 21 June 2016. It was delivered to the airline on 19 July 2016 and was the first 737 Next Generation aircraft purchased by the airline. The airline defended the airplane's maintenance record, saying it had been inspected just two days before the crash.
Passengers and crew
There were 167 passengers and nine crew members on the flight. According to Iranian offcials, 146 passengers used an Iranian passport to leave Iran, ten used an Afghan passport, five used a Canadian one, four a Swedish one, and two used Ukrainian passports.
According to Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko and a flight manifest released by UIA, out of the 167 passengers' citizenship, 82 were confirmed to be Iranian, 63 were Canadian, three were British, four were Afghan, 10 were Swedish, and three were German. Eleven Ukrainians were also onboard, nine of them being the crew. The German Foreign Ministry denied any Germans were aboard; the three people in question were Afghan nationals who lived in Germany as asylum seekers. According to Iranian nationality law, the Iranian government considers dual citizens as Iranian citizens only.
Of the 167 passengers, 138 were travelling to Canada via Ukraine. Many of the Iranian Canadians were affiliated with Canadian universities, as students or academics who had travelled to Iran during Christmas break. The crash was the largest loss of Canadian lives in aviation since the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182.
In addition to six flight attendants, the crew consisted of Captain Volodymyr Gaponenko (11,600 hours on Boeing 737 aircraft, including 5,500 hours as captain), instructor pilot Oleksiy Naumkin (12,000 hours on Boeing 737, including 6,600 as captain), and first officer Serhii Khomenko (7,600 hours on Boeing 737).
The Iran Civil Aviation Organization reported shortly after the incident that a team of investigators had been sent to the crash site. On the same day, the Ukrainian government said it would send experts to Tehran to assist with the investigation. President Volodymyr Zelensky instructed the Ukrainian General Prosecutor to open a criminal investigation into the crash. The Ukrainian government sent 53 representatives to Iran to assist with the investigation, among them government officials, investigators, and representatives of the UIA.
Under standard International Civil Aviation Organization rules, according to Annex 13 of the Chicago Convention, the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) would participate in the investigation, as they represented the state of the manufacturer of the aircraft. France's Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) would participate as representatives of the state of manufacture of the aircraft's engines (a U.S.–France joint venture) and Ukraine's Ministry of Infrastructure would participate as representatives of the state in which the aircraft was registered. Given the 2019–20 Persian Gulf crisis, it is not known how these organizations would be involved, although it was reported that Iran had said American, French and Ukrainian authorities would be involved.
The head of the commission for accidents in the Iran CAO said they received no emergency message from the aircraft before the crash. It was reported that the aircraft's black boxes (the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR)) had been recovered, but Iran CAO said it was not clear to which country the recorders would be sent so the data could be analyzed. The association said it would not hand over the black boxes to Boeing or to U.S. authorities. On 9 January, the black boxes were reported, by Iranian investigators, to have been damaged and that some parts of their memory may have been lost. Mary Schiavo, a former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, said no automated distress messages had been sent from the aircraft or by its crew.
On 9 January, the Swedish Accident Investigation Authority and Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) were officially invited by the investigation team to participate in the probe on the crash. The NTSB, Ukraine, and Boeing were also invited to participate in the investigation. Due to American economic sanctions placed on Iran, U.S. investigators would need a special licence from the Treasury and the State Departments to travel there.
On 9 January, media reports showed bulldozers being used to clear the crash site. Some aircraft investigation experts expressed concerns about disturbing and damaging the crash site before a thorough investigation can be conducted. Iran denied bulldozing the evidence. On 10 January, the Iranian government granted Ukrainian investigators permission to investigate the flight recorders and Ukrainian investigators visited the crash site, with plans to download the recorders in Tehran. On 14 January, the head of the TSB, Kathy Fox, said there were signs that Iran would allow the TSB to participate in the downloading and analysis of data from the airplane's flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. On 23 January, the TSB announced that they had been invited by Iran to help with the flight recorders.
Cause of the crash
On 8 January, Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry released a statement that the aircraft burst into flames after a fire started in one of its engines, causing the pilot to lose control and crash into the ground. The airline opined that pilot error was impossible to be cited as the cause of the crash as the pilots had exclusively been trained for the Tehran flights for years, noting that Tehran Airport was "not a simple airport".
Iranian and Ukrainian government sources initially blamed mechanical issues aboard the aircraft for its crash. The Ukrainian government later retracted its statement and said anything was possible, refusing to rule out that the aircraft was hit by a missile. President Zelensky said there should not be any speculation about the cause of the crash.
On 9 January, U.S. intelligence and defence officials said they believed the aircraft had been shot down by an Iranian Tor missile (NATO reporting name SA-15 "Gauntlet"), based on evidence from reconnaissance satellite imagery and radar data. Ukrainian authorities said a shootdown was one of the "main working theories", while Iranian authorities denied this, stating that allegations of a missile hit were "psychological warfare". British defence officials agreed with the American assessment of a shootdown. Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau said evidence from multiple sources, including Canadian intelligence, suggest the aircraft was shot down by an Iranian missile.[failed verification]
After three days of describing it as "an American lie", "a wrongful scenario by CIA and the Pentagon", and "an attempt to prevent Boeing stock from a free fall", on 11 January, the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran admitted they had shot down the airplane, having erroneously identified it as a hostile target.
According to an early IRGC statement, when the airplane seemed to head toward a "sensitive military centre" of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, controllers mistook it for a "hostile target" and shot it down. Iran's Civil Aviation Organization disputed this timeline, arguing that the airplane was on the correct course all the time and that there was no proven flight deviation. The Iranian CAO's viewpoint was also supported by a Radio Canada International article that used public ADS-B flight tracking data.
Iranian Brigadier general Amir Ali Hajizadeh of the IRGC Aerospace Defense said a missile operator in Bidganeh had acted independently, mistook the airplane for a U.S. cruise missile and shot it down. Hajizadeh also stated that the airplane was on-track and "made no mistake".
Western experts had previously noted that Flight 752 was flying near several sensitive Iranian ballistic missile facilities, including the Shahid Modarres missile base at Bidganeh near Malard, which the Iranians could have believed would be targets of retaliation for their attack a few hours earlier.
On 9 January, Nariman Gharib contacted The New York Times and open-source intelligence (OSINT) organization Bellingcat with a video showing an apparent missile exploding in mid-air that had been circulating on social media and appeared in a Telegram group he set up. The New York Times contacted the original videographer through Nariman Gharib and received the videos in high resolution, later confirming their authenticity. Additional footage shows CCTV camera footage of large amounts of flaming debris being thrown clear of the impact, then strewn down a road between two buildings near a football pitch at the centre of the impact zone.
An investigation team from Bellingcat carried out an analysis of the footage and concluded that they have geolocated the videos to a residential area in Parand (coordinates 35.489414, 50.906917), a suburb west of the airport. Bellingcat said images of a missile nose cone had yet to be verified, despite claims from several sources. The Tor missile's warhead is located in its midsection, meaning its nose may not be destroyed in an explosion. Similar photographs of fragments have been taken in eastern Ukraine, but none have been found to be the same as those attributed to the recent incident.
USA Today reported that the firm IHS Markit reviewed photographs showing the guidance section of a missile and "assesses them to be credible". Aviation monitoring group Opsgroup said: "We would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event, similar to MH17—until there is clear evidence to the contrary" asserting that photographs "show obvious projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section".
Further video from a CCTV camera monitoring a car park in Northern Parand emerged on January 11th, which was geolocated by the New York Times to a block of flats in the Phase 6 area, showing vehicle hazard lights from car alarms flashing, followed by the track of a missile and the explosion almost directly overhead, confirming the earlier analysis by Bellingcat, and providing a bearing for the missile launch site.
On 9 January, President Trump said the airplane "was flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood, and somebody could have made a mistake." He said the U.S. had no involvement in the incident and that he did not believe a mechanical issue had anything to do with the crash.
Also on 9 January, at a news conference in Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the airliner was likely brought down by an Iranian missile, citing intelligence from Canadian and other sources, and said the incident "may well have been unintentional".
On 10 January, during an interview with Sky News, Iran's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, rejected video footage obtained by American media that showed bulldozers clearing the crash site as "absurd". Baeidinejad further denied that an Iranian missile had brought down the airplane, and said that "[p]lane accidents are a very technical issue, I cannot judge, you cannot judge, reporters on the ground cannot judge. Nobody can judge. A foreign minister or a prime minister cannot judge on this issue."
On 11 January, Iran admitted it had shot down the Ukrainian jet by "accident", the result of human error. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division, said his unit accepts "full responsibility" for the shootdown. In an address broadcast by state television, he said that when he learned about the downing of the airplane, "I wished I was dead." Hajizadeh said that, with his forces on high alert, an officer mistook it for a hostile missile and made a "bad decision".
On 11 January, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Tehran to vent anger at officials, calling them liars for having denied the shootdown. Protests took place outside at least two universities, with tear gas reportedly fired. Students and protesters gathered at Sharif University, Amirkabir University and Hafez Overpass in Tehran, reports said, initially to pay respect to the victims. Protests turned angry in the evening. President Trump tweeted support for the protests. On 12 January, protests erupted across Iran for a second day; in Tehran and in several other cities, protesters chanted slogans against the leadership and clashed with security forces and Iran's Basiji Force firing tear gas at the protesters. On 13 January, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
On 14 January, the Rich Kids of Tehran Instagram account published a new video, showing two missiles hitting the aircraft. The security camera footage, verified by The New York Times, shows two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart. On 20 January, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization also admitted that the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard had fired two Russian-made Tor-M1 missiles at the aircraft.
On 19 January the bodies of 11 Ukrainian citizens, who died in the crash, were returned to Ukraine in a solemn ceremony at the Boryspil International Airport. The coffins, which were each draped in a Ukrainian flag, were carried one by one from a Ukrainian Il-76 military plane of the 25th Transport Aviation Brigade.
President Zelensky, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Dmitry Razumkov, and other officials and military servicemen participated in the commemoration.
The disaster occurred amid a heightened political crisis in the Persian Gulf, hours after the Iranian military launched 15 missiles towards U.S. military airbases in Iraq in response to the Baghdad International Airport airstrike which killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. In response, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in a notice to airmen (NOTAM), banned all American civil aircraft from flying over Iran, Iraq, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Although the FAA's NOTAM is not binding on non-U.S. airlines, many airlines take it into consideration when making safety decisions, especially after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014. Several airlines, including Austrian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, KLM, Air France, Air India, SriLankan Airlines, Qantas and Vietnam Airlines began to reroute their flights. Other airlines, such as Lufthansa, Emirates, Flydubai, and Turkish Airlines cancelled some flights to airports in Iran and Iraq and would make further operational changes as necessary.
Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) suspended flights to Tehran indefinitely shortly after the incident, with flights after the day of the crash no longer available. The suspension also complied with a prohibition issued by State Aviation Administration of Ukraine for flights in Iran's airspace for all Ukrainian registration aircraft. Since the crash, additional airlines, Air Astana and SCAT Airlines also re-routed flights that overflew Iran. This followed a recommendation by the Kazakhstan Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development, issued to Kazakhstani air companies after the crash, to avoid flying over Iran airspace and/or to cancel flights to Iran. Air Canada rerouted its Toronto-Dubai flight to fly over Egypt and Saudi Arabia instead of Iraq.
On 11 January, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said they had shot down the aircraft after erroneously identifying it as a hostile target. President Rouhani called the incident an "unforgivable mistake". Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif apologized for the disaster and added that the preliminary conclusion of the armed forces' internal investigation was "human error".
On 17 January, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in his first Friday sermon in eight years, defended the Revolutionary Guards' accidental killing of passengers and praised Operation Martyr Soleimani for giving a "slap on the face" to the United States. His sermon came as public anger mounted against the government for their handling the incident.
On 11 January, in response to the government's admission, thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities such as Urmia, Shiraz, Isfahan and Hamadan. Video clips on Twitter showed protesters in Tehran chanting "Death to the dictator", a reference to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Later the same day, a large crowd of students gathered in front of Amirkabir and Sharif Universities in Tehran, shouting slogans condemning government deception about the accident. The mourning Iranians called Qasem Soleimani a murderer and tore up pictures of him, shattering the appearance of national solidarity that had followed his death. Riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters. The protesters chanted that they needed more than just resignations, but prosecutions of those responsible as well.
Tehran residents told Reuters that police were out in force in the capital on 12 January, with dozens of protesters in Tehran chanting "They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here," and scores of demonstrators gathered in other cities also shown on social media.
Iran's exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi said the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei was responsible for the downing. Iranian reformist newspaper Etemad ran the banner headline "Apologize and resign", and commented on the "people's demand" for the removal of those responsible for the shootdown.
Amnesty International reported on 15 January that on 11 and 12 January Iranian security forces used tear gas, pointed pellets and pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators protesting the government lying about shooting down the passenger plane.
Iran's security forces were on alert not to let people turn funerals of the plane crash victims into demonstrations. Nevertheless, in some Iranian cities such as Isfahan and Sanandaj, participants in these funerals have shown their anger and shouted anti-government slogans. The supreme leader Ali Khamenei praised the country's armed forces and described the protesters as those deceived by foreign media.
On 14 January 2020, Iran's judiciary announced that several arrests had been made over the accidental shooting down of the aircraft. The spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, did not name any suspect or say how many had been held. In a televised speech, President Rouhani said the judiciary would assemble a special court with a high-ranking judge and tens of experts to oversee the investigation.
On 14 January, it was announced that Iranian authorities had arrested the person who had published a video of the aircraft being shot down. An Iranian journalist based in London who initially posted the footage insisted that his source was safe, and that the Iranian authorities had arrested the wrong person. According to Tasnim News Agency and the semi-official Fars News Agency, Iranian authorities are looking for the person(s) who distributed the video.
President Zelensky expressed condolences to the relatives of the victims and cut short his diplomatic visit in Oman. He later added that several aircraft had been prepared in Kiev to travel to Tehran to transport the dead. He declared 9 January a national day of mourning, with Ukrainian flags flying at half-mast on government buildings. He also announced unscheduled inspections on every airliner in the country and asked Ukrainians to refrain from visiting Iran and Iraq for the time being. On 11 January Zelensky said, "Ukraine insists on a full admission of guilt. We expect Iran to bring those responsible to justice, return the bodies, pay compensation and issue an official apology. The investigation must be full, open and continue without delays or obstacles."
On 13 January, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said five of the countries that had citizens on board the airliner—Canada, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sweden and an unnamed country—would meet in London on 16 January to discuss possible legal action.
With the large loss of Canadian life, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Transport Minister Marc Garneau both expressed sympathy for the victims. Champagne announced that he was in touch with the Ukrainian government and Garneau announced that Canada was offering assistance in the investigation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted on transparency and justice for the families and loved ones of the victims. On 14 January, Trudeau said tensions and escalation between Iran and the United States were responsible for the shootdown.
A class action lawsuit was filed with the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario, Canada against the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran IRGC, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Khamenei among others. 
Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Iran, Robert Macaire was arrested on 11 January 2020 during protests in Tehran but released shortly afterwards. The ambassador was detained on suspicion that he had joined demonstrations against the government; he denied this and clarified that he had attended an event advertised as a vigil, to pay respects to the victims, and had left five minutes after people started chanting. The British government called his arrest a "flagrant violation of international law". Macaire had been arrested 30 minutes after leaving the vigil he said he had attended, according to The Guardian. The following day Macaire was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in order to explain his presence during the protest. The U.S. has urged the Iranian regime to issue the British ambassador a formal apology for disregarding his rights and to reiterate that all the rights of diplomats should be respected.
- 2020 in Iran
- Islamic Republic of Iran Air Defense Force
- List of accidents and incidents involving the Boeing 737
- List of aircraft accidents and incidents resulting in at least 50 fatalities
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
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- List of airliner shootdown incidents
- 2019–20 Iranian protests
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