Ukraine has rejected the Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran’s final report on the downing of a Ukrainian jet as a “cynical attempt” to conceal the truth.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was hit by two missiles after taking off from Tehran on 8 January 2020. All 176 people on board died.
The CAOI’s report blames errors by an air defence unit for the tragedy.
It says an operator “misidentified” the plane as hostile and fired the missiles without authorisation from a commander.
In a video posted on Facebook following the report’s publication, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the Iranian investigation “biased”, the evidence presented “selective”, and the conclusions “deceptive”.
“The document does not present all the circumstances, does not reveal the root causes of the tragedy or the chain of actions that led to it. This is not a report, it is a collection of manipulations, the goal of which is not to establish the truth, but to whitewash the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
Ukraine and four other countries whose citizens or residents were killed – Canada, the UK, Afghanistan and Sweden – have demanded Iran provide a complete and thorough explanation of what happened.
For the first three days after flight PS752 crashed, Iran’s armed forces denied any responsibility and the CAOI suggested there had been a technical failure. Authorities also allowed the crash site to be looted and then bulldozed.
But as evidence mounted, the Revolutionary Guards’ Aerospace Force said an air defence unit had mistaken the Boeing 737-800 for a US missile.
Iran’s air defences had been on high alert at the time because the country had just fired ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases hosting US forces in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad five days earlier.
The CAOI’s final report says that, following a tactical relocation, the air defence unit in question “failed to adjust the system direction out of human error, causing the operator to observe the target flying west from [Tehran Imam Khomeini Airport] as a target approaching Tehran from the south-west at a relatively low altitude”.
“The target specifications were announced to the command centre, but the message was never relayed. Without receiving a go-ahead or response from the command centre, [the operator] came to identify the target as a hostile one and fired a missile at the aircraft against the procedure planned,” it added.
According to the report, the warhead of the first surface-to-air missile detonated near the plane and “caused damage to the aircraft systems, after which the cascading damage was observable”.
The three cockpit crew members “appeared to have sustained no physical injuries in the blast and were just involved in managing the situation”, it adds.
The report says it is likely that the second missile “did not affect the aircraft”, and that it “had maintained its structural integrity by the time it crashed into the ground and exploded” in the Shahedshahr area, south-west of Tehran.
The CAOI concludes that “neither the aircraft technical or operational condition, nor its flight path and altitude contributed to the misidentification” by the air defence unit.
Nine Ukraine crew members were killed, along with 167 passengers.
According to Iranian officials, the victims included 146 people travelling on Iranian passports.
Canada says 55 of the victims were Canadian citizens and 30 were permanent residents, while 53 others were travelling to Canada via Kyiv that day.
In December, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he did not believe the downing of flight PS752 could be blamed on human error.
He spoke the day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special adviser, Ralph Goodale, wrote in a report that “in the circumstances of this case, as known thus far, there are indications of incompetence, recklessness and wanton disregard for innocent human life”.
UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said in a separate report that while she had found no concrete evidence that the targeting of flight PS752 was intentional, the explanations provided by the Iranian authorities “present many inconsistencies” and “do not add up”.