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Iran report into downing of Flight 752 explains what happened, not why: TSB

Last Updated Mar 18, 2021 at 10:12 am PDT

Rescue workers inspect the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 8, 2020. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Ebrahim Noroozi

Iran's report blames 'human error' as reason why Revolutionary Guard shot down Ukraine Airlines 752 in January 2020

TSB says Iran has not provided any evidence to support its reasoning for the shooting of PS752

'The report says what happened, but doesn’t address the why', TSB says of downing of PS752 that killed 176 people

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The Transportation Safety Board is suggesting Iran’s report into the 2020 downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 has holes in it.

The TSB made its comments on Thursday after having received Iran’s final report into the tragedy, which left 176 people dead — including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and dozens of others bound for Canada.

Iran’s final assessment, put together by the country’s civil aviation body, blames “human error” as the reason why the Revolutionary Guard shot down the airliner minutes after it took off from Tehran.

It says an operator fired two surface-to-air missiles after misidentifying the Boeing 737-800 as a “hostile target” because of a misalignment of the missile launcher’s radar.

Kathy Fox, the chair of the TSB, says to date, Iran has not provided any evidence to support this scenario. However, she says “it is a plausible explanation for what happened.”

“The report does not provide detailed information regarding how the misalignment occurred, nor what steps were taken to ensure it was properly calibrated, nor anything about the missile operator’s training, experience, or proficiency, nor about how or why the required communications with central military command were either not followed or not successful,” she said, Thursday.

The downing of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 came hours after Iran launched missiles into Iraq at two U.S. military bases in retaliation for the American killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

As part of the TSB’s involvement in the investigation, Fox says the agency asked the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau of the Islamic Republic of Iran to answer three main questions: What was the sequence of events that led to the missiles being fired, ultimately hitting PS752?; what was the decision based on to keep Iran’s airspace open amid a heightened state of military alert?; and why were civilian airliners still able to operate in Iran’s airspace, despite the country launching missiles into Iraq just hours earlier?

“This report only partially explains why the airspace remained open and why operators continued to fly after Iran had launched missiles into Iraq,” said Fox.

“It does not explain any of the underlying factors behind why the missiles were launched at PS752, the stated cause of this tragedy,” she added.

Fox says Iran’s report “generally explains the risk assessment process and mitigations that its civilian authorities took” with the military, given the possibility of a retaliatory strike after missiles were fired at the U.S. bases in Iraq.

She notes the report says Iran “gradually cleared air traffic from using certain air routes to the west,” as well as requiring “military approval for each individual aircraft’s departure from civil airports such as Tehran’s international airport.” However, in the end, Iran’s airspace was not completely closed.

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No notices were published to warn aircraft operators of the potential risks, Fox adds, until after the Ukrainian airline was downed.

“The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration did post a warning; however, this notice would not have been readily available to Ukraine International Airlines, nor other foreign operators outside of the U.S.,” Fox explained. She notes eight aircraft, in addition to PS752, left Tehran before the plane was shot down.

“In short, the report says what happened, but doesn’t address the why,” Fox added.

The TSB has said more needs to be done to protect international civil aviation from operating in conflict zones.

In addition to the Canadians killed on Jan. 8, 2020, Britain, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Sweden also lost citizens when the plane went down. In the months that followed, these countries formed a coalition with Canada to deal with Iran in demanding reparations and a more transparent report.

Read the TSB’s full comments.