Iran says it unintentionally shot down Ukrainian airliner

Human error blamed
A security official examines debris at the site of the Ukraine International Airlines crash on Jan. 8, 2020.
A security official examines debris at the site of the Ukraine International Airlines crash on Jan. 8, 2020.

Iran announced early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base, according to a statement issued by the country’s military.

The announcement reversed Iran’s claims that mechanical issues caused the crash of the aircraft on Wednesday, which killed all 176 people aboard. It had previously denied that Iranian military defenses had downed the aircraft, a Boeing 737-800.

The Iranian military’s statement said the plane “took the flying posture and altitude of an enemy target” as it came close to a Revolutionary Guard base. It said that “under these circumstances, because of human error,” the plane “came under fire.”

International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied intelligence assessments have said that Iranian missiles brought down the plane, most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

Suspicions that an Iranian missile had brought down the plane began immediately after Wednesday morning’s crash — just hours after Iran fired missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces.

Official Iranian news media had cited technical problems as the cause in the hours after the crash. Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization chief, Ali Abedzadeh, doubled down on that assessment Friday, saying nothing could be determined until the data from the black boxes was analyzed, and he characterized statements made by other nations as politically motivated.

But by late Friday, officials were considering acknowledging that Iranian missiles brought down the jet, according to four Iranians familiar with the deliberations. The government was also weighing whether to blame faulty jet equipment.

Video verified by The New York Times and published Thursday appeared to show a missile fired from Iranian territory hitting the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States and its allies had intelligence showing that the passenger jet had been shot down by an Iranian missile. Pompeo was the first U.S. official to publicly confirm the intelligence assessments.

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