The Ukrainian jet that crashed after taking off from a Tehran airport may have been mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile, a London-based global information firm says.
“Photographs purportedly taken near the site of the crash and circulated on social media appear to show the guidance section of an SA-15 Gauntlet short-range, surface to air missile, which landed in a nearby garden,” the firm IHS Markit said in its report.
The firm said it could not confirm the authenticity of the photos but “assesses them to be credible.”
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers. All 176 passengers and crew of the Boeing 737-800 were killed.
President Trump said Thursday he found the crash suspicious and that “somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.”
In Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said that investigators were looking into claims that parts of a Russian-made, surface-to-air missile stocked by Iran had been found near the crash site.
The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Ali Abedzadeh, quickly moved to dispute any suggestion that it shot down Ukraine’s commercial airliner, according to Iran state media. The Fars News Agency, citing Abedzadeh, said its missiles were not capable of reaching that altitude. Abedzadeh characterized the suggestion as “scientifically impossible.”
In a preliminary crash report issued Thursday, Iran’s civil aviation authority said the plane’s crew never made a radio call for help and were trying to turn back to the airport when the plane went down. The plane apparently suffered engine failure, Iranian officials said.
IHS Markit says publicly available air traffic data is “not consistent” with Iran’s claim. The firm says flight data shows a normal ascent until the plane disappears at 8,000 feet.
“This is consistent with a catastrophic incident onboard the aircraft,” the report said.
The report adds that “A pilot of an airliner that took off from Tehran airport shortly after UIA Flight 752 told an IHS Markit source that he watched the aircraft take off and then explode in midair.”
CBS News, citing unnamed sources, reported that U.S. intelligence picked up signals of a radar being turned on, and that U.S. satellites also detected two surface-to-air missile launches shortly before the plane exploded. Federal officials were briefed on the intelligence Thursday, and a source who was in the briefing said it appears missile components were found near the crash site, CBS reported.
Newsweek, citing two Pentagon officials, said the plane was struck by an anti-aircraft missile. The officials told Newsweek the strike was likely accidental.
Iran authorities say they have recovered the audio and data recorders from the flight, but say they won’t allow Boeing or U.S. aviation officials access to the black boxes.
The Iranian explanation immediately drew skepticism from some aviation experts.
“There was no way for Iran to know it was engine failure,” said Mary Schiavo, a former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general and a pilot.
“That is the wreckage of an explosion in the air,” she said. “Something happened to blow that plane out of the air. Statistically speaking, that’s a missile or a bomb.”
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard; Curtis Tate and Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY