U.S. officials are reportedly “confident” that Iran shot down a civilian airliner on the same day it struck U.S. forces in Iraq. The Ukrainian International Airlines flight crashed moments after takeoff from the Iranian capital of Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that intelligence indicates the airplane, with 63 Canadians on board, was “shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 took off from Tehran International Airport at 6:12 a.m. local time, several hours after Iranian ballistic missiles rained down on U.S. bases in nearby Iraq. The Boeing 737-800, bound for Kiev, climbed to an altitude just over 7,900 feet and 310 miles an hour before it came crashing back to earth, exploding in a huge fireball. The pilot reportedly never declared an emergency and was not in contact with the air traffic control tower.
- U.S. officials expressed confidence today that Iranian forces shot down a Ukranian airliner.
- The airliner mysteriously crashed just after takeoff hours after an Iranian missile strike on U.S. forces.
- Iranian forces may have panicked and accidentally shot the plane down.
Iranian officials quickly attributed the crash to an engine fire. According to CBS News, however, U.S. intelligence forces picked up electronic indications of an Iranian military radar being turned on, and U.S. satellites tracked two surface-to-air missiles in the air shortly before PS752 crashed. The satellites were likely part of the U.S. Air Force’s Space Based Infra Red System (SBIRS), a network of satellites designed to pick up the heat signatures of ballistic missile launches. SBIRS data reportedly helped U.S. intelligence determine that a Russian Buk missile was responsible for shooting down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
Iranian officials have pushed back against accusations their military forces shot down the airliner. According to Canada’s Globe and Mail, Ali Abedzadeh, in charge of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, denied that the aircraft had been hit by a missile. “”Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the first head of state to blame Iran other than U.S. President Donald Trump, who merely expressed a “feeling” that Iranian forces had shot down the plane. “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence: the evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Trudeau told the Canadian press in Ottawa Thursday.
The missile reportedly involved in the attack is a Tor M1 surface-to-air missile system, known as SA-15 or “Gauntlet” to NATO. Tor is designed to intercept aerial threats to ranges up to 19,000 feet. The missile systems were sold to Iran by Russia in 2015. Here’s the Tor missile system in action in a video posted to YouTube by Russian state media.
How did this happen? Iranian forces were likely on alert for a U.S. counterstrike but did not shut down air traffic at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. One running theory is that the missile was launched by a Tor missile system located at an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) base northwest of the airport. The IRGC-AF is also the same organization that carried out the attacks on the American targets. The IRGC is known to operate at least some of Iran’s Tor missiles.
This is not the first time that surface-to-air missiles have shot down civilian airliners. In 1988, the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes accidentally shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all 290 passengers and crew aboard. The shootdown took place during a skirmish between the Vincennes and Iranian naval forces. The crew of the cruiser mistook the civilian airliner for an inbound Iranian Air Force F-14 Tomcat. The U.S. expressed regret for the incident and paid compensation to the families of those killed.
More recently, a Buk surface-to-air missile from the Russian Army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine. Russia has denied all involvement but an investigation into the incident pinned responsibility squarely on the Russian military and Russian-back Ukrainian separatists.
Unfortunately, this terrible event in Tehran likely won’t be the the last time a civilian airline is caught between to rival militaries.
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