Iran, Islamic Republic Of
A Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 people has crashed due to technical problems after take-off from Tehran’s main international airport, killing all on board, Iran’s state television and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry say.
- Rescuers are attempting to recover the bodies from the crash site
- Air tracking service FlightRadar24 says the plane that crashed was Flight PS 752
- The crash comes hours after Iran launched a missile attack targeting two bases in Iraq housing US forces
The Boeing 737-800, which belongs to Ukraine International Airlines and took off on Wednesday morning (local time), crashed near Imam Khomeini International Airport and burst into flames after a fire struck one of its engines, said Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry.
The pilot lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran, Mr Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of Iran’s air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot could not communicate with air-traffic controllers in the last moments of the flight.
A relative of a flight attendant on the plane at an airport in Ukraine following the news. (AP: Efrem Lukatsky)
According to website FlightRadar24, the plane was Flight PS 752 and it had stopped sending data almost immediately after take-off.
Prior to take-off, it had been delayed by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to FlightRadar24.
The Boeing 737-800 carried 167 passengers and nine crew members on its flight to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Mr Biniaz said.
According to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, on the plane there were:
- 82 Iranians
- 11 Ukrainians
- 63 Canadians
- 10 Swedes
- Four Afghans
- Three Germans
- Three British people
Airline officials said most of the passengers were transiting through Kiev to other destinations.
Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.
“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevhen Dykhne, president of the airline, said at a briefing following the crash.
The crash came hours after Iran launched a missile attack targeting two bases in Iraq housing US forces in retaliation for the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani last week.
The plane is believed to have stopped sending data almost immediately after take-off. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)
Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency services, said rescuers were trying to recover the bodies from the crash site.
But he later told state television: “The fire is so heavy that we cannot [do] any rescue … we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed all passengers and crew on board were killed, citing preliminary information.
In a statement, Mr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was trying to establish the circumstances of the crash.
“My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” he said.
Mr Zelenskiy later ordered a sweeping inspection of all civil airplanes in the country, “no matter the conclusions about the crash in Iran”.
The plane went down after a fire reportedly struck one of its engines. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)
His office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kiev because of the crash.
“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” said Parliament Speaker Dmytro Razumkov, in a Facebook statement.
Ukrainian authorities have offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash.
“We’re preparing a group of specialists in order to help with the search operation and the investigation of the cause of the crash,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, said.
‘Body parts were lying around everywhere’
AP journalists who reached the crash site saw a wide field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead laying among shattered pieces of the aircraft.
Their possessions — a child’s cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics — stretched everywhere.
Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.
“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told Associated Press.
Thousands of Boeing 737-800s are used by airlines around the world. (AP: Mohammad Nasiri)
“At first I thought [the Americans] have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”
Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters as they arrived at the scene. They quickly realised there would be no survivors.
“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”
Tehran nuclear deal could hamper Boeing’s assistance in crash investigation
Boeing issued a brief statement on Twitter acknowledging the crash.
@Boeing: We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.
Boeing, like other airline manufacturers, typically assists in crash investigations.
However, that effort in this case could be affected by the US sanctions campaign in place on Iran since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
Why the killing of General Soleimani is such a big deal
The death of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani is a watershed moment, even in the long and bloody history of Middle East conflict.
The Boeing 737-800 is a very common single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights.
Thousands of the planes are used by airlines around the world.
Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.
A number of Boeing 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.
In March 2016, a Flydubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62 people onboard.
Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 onboard.