Iranian investigators said they would be willing to hand over the so-called black boxes in a Ukrainian airliner crash to another country for analysis, as Tehran attempted to dispel claims by Western officials that the Boeing 737-800 was downed by missiles.
Iran also invited investigators from Boeing Co., the U.S., Ukraine, France and Canada to probe the causes of the crash, which killed all 176 on board.
The Iranian investigation team said Friday it would first seek to analyze the black boxes, including the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, in Iran. They could also be assessed in Russia, Ukraine, France or Canada, four countries that had expressed a readiness to help, Iranian investigators said.
Get news and analysis on politics, policy, national security and more, delivered right to your inbox “If we can do it ourselves, we will,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said during a press conference in Tehran. “If not, we will definitely ask for assistance from other countries.”
U.S., Canadian and U.K. officials said Thursday they believe the Ukraine International Airlines single-aisle jet was downed by a missile system fired by Iran, possibly by mistake. A U.S. official said the plane was tracked before it went down by Iranian radar used to aim missiles and then hit by a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile system. Hours before the crash, Iran launched strikes on U.S. troops in Iraq and was on alert for a possible U.S. retaliation.
Iranian officials have vehemently denied that claim. However, if proven to be an Iranian mistake, the crash is likely to pose a further challenge to a leadership already reeling from the targeted killing of a top general, a stampede at his funeral that left dozens dead, and months of public protests fueled by economic hardship.
Mr. Abedzadeh called on Western officials to make public their findings on the missile strikes via the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, the international body that sets conventions for air-accident investigations. The plane was aflame as it crashed and attempting to return to Imam Khomeini International Airport, from where it had minutes earlier taken off, he said. That indicated it wasn’t shot down by a missile, he added.
Ukraine International Airlines hasn’t commented on the claims by Western officials that the plane was downed by Iran.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on his Facebook page said Friday that the jet may have been hit by a missile but there is no confirmation yet. He asked other nations, including the U.S., to share evidence, and he plans to discuss the investigation with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later Friday. Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office on Friday asked Canada to share information and said it is conducting a criminal inquiry into the crash.
A team of 45 Ukrainian experts and officials is on the ground in Tehran, working on decoding the black boxes and identifying and repatriating bodies.
It isn’t yet clear how much of a role U.S. investigators will play. White House sanctions on Iran mean U.S. investigators will have to seek clearance from Washington to visit the Middle East state.
The National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. entity tasked with transport investigations, said it is continuing to monitor the situation and evaluate its level of participation in the investigation. Boeing has started preparing the necessary paperwork and has been in touch with both the State and Commerce departments.
In the normal course of an investigation, some level of participation would also be expected from the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and General Electric Co., which made the plane’s engines with a French joint-venture partner. Canada, which lost at least 63 citizens, has vowed to work with international partners to ensure the crash is thoroughly investigated. Iran said Friday a 10-member Canadian team was heading to the country to manage the affairs of its citizens killed in the crash.