Iran has accused the United States of a ‘big lie’ after Washington and its allies blamed an Iranian missile for downing a passenger jet.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei accused the West of ‘psychological warfare’ after US satellite data showed surface-to-air missiles being launched at the Boeing 737.
Iran claims the crash which killed 176 was caused by a technical failure but Western governments emphatically rejected their explanation last night.
‘It is unfortunate that the psychological operation of the US government and those supporting it are adding insult to the injury of the bereaved families and victimising them for certain goals by propagating such fallacies,’ Rabiei said.
‘No one will assume responsibility for such a big lie once it is known that the claim had been fraudulent,’ he was quoted as saying by Press TV.
Tehran also wants to download the flight’s black box data itself, but has issued contradictory statements over who else will be allowed to investigate it.
Footage which emerged last night showed the Ukrainian International Airlines jet exploding in mid-air after it was hit, killing all 167 passengers and nine crew on board
One of the black boxes from the Ukraine International Airlines jet. Iran says it wants to download the data itself
How long does it take to read the contents of a black box?
If a black box is not damaged, its contents could be downloaded in a matter of minutes.
The flight recorders are designed to withstand the impact of a crash, but may be burned or dented, meaning it can take weeks to retrieve the data.
The International Aviation Safety Association explains that a damaged black box will need to have its memory card removed, cleaned and attached to a working recorder.
The new recorder will retrieve the data, allowing investigators to analyse the contents.
Iran has said the black boxes on the Ukrainian International Airlines plane may be damaged and could need international expertise to be analysed.
Pictures broadcast on Iranian state TV showed one of the boxes looking charred and battered but fundamentally intact.
Tehran has issued a range of conflicting statements about who will be allowed to help analyse the results.
The boxes are designed to store second-by-second information including on speed, altitude, engine performance and flight trajectory.
They also record conversations between the pilots and flight attendants as well as other sounds on board, including possible alarms.
To make them easier to find, they are bright orange (despite the name) and fitted with a beacon which can emit a signal for one month.
They are also designed to survive fire and lengthy periods underwater.
Ali Abedzadeh, the head of the country’s national aviation department, also denied the allegations today at a news conference in Tehran.
‘One thing is for certain, this airplane was not hit by a missile,’ he said.
Changing Iran’s story, he said the pilot had asked to turn back to the airport after the engine caught fire – although Tehran previously said the crew had not reported any problems.
Iranian officials have a history of issuing such denials, including last summer when it denied involvement in mysterious attacks on Gulf shipping.
The black box flight recorders are being ‘opened’ today but could be faulty and may be sent to Russia or Canada to be analysed, he said.
He said it could take one or two months to extract information from the boxes, which contain the voice and flight data recorders.
‘We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help,’ he said.
Iran previously said it would not share the black boxes with Boeing, but today invited the company to send a representative to help investigate them.
In June 2019 the Pentagon released footage of Iranian special forces removing an unexploded limpet mine from the side of a ship. Iran similarly labelled it ‘psychological warfare’.
Tehran had said yesterday that the plane suffered a technical fault and was turning back to the airport when it crashed, but it is now believed the jet was shot down.
Justin Trudeau, who has demanded answers for the families of 63 Canadians killed in the crash, said last night he had ‘intelligence from multiple sources’ pointing to a shoot-down.
‘The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,’ he said, adding that the strike ‘may well have been unintentional’.
Donald Trump also rejected Iran’s claims of a mechanical fault.
‘It was flying in a pretty rough neighbourhood. Somebody could have made a mistake,’ Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday. ‘I have a feeling that something very terrible happened, very devastating.’
UK prime minister Boris Johnson said there was ‘now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile’, while France has also offered help with the investigation.
Satellite data detected two surface-to-air missiles being launched just minutes after the Boeing 737 took off, the US government says.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei (pictured) accused the West of ‘psychological warfare’ after US satellite data showed surface-to-air missiles being launched at the jet
Rescuers examine the wreckage of the Boeing 737 after it crashed on Wednesday morning
Rescue teams gather at the scene after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital
It is believed that Iran may have shot the plane down unintentionally, possibly mistaking it for a military jet just hours after Tehran had attacked US bases in Iraq.
Footage which emerged last night showed the Ukrainian International Airlines jet exploding in mid-air after it was hit, killing all 167 passengers and nine crew on board.
The accusations have sent tensions ratcheting up again after Iran’s relatively inconsequential strikes on US bases had sparked hopes that the crisis was calming.
Iran has sent mixed signals over whether its retaliation for the death of general Qassem Soleimani is complete.
The crisis forced European planes heading to Iran to turn around in mid-air last night, with all of today’s flights to Tehran cancelled by the carriers.
Multiple videos have shown the plane already ablaze before it hit the ground.
Ukraine has said the plane could have been shot down by a Russian-made Tor missile, the weapon believed to have brought down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.
‘Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash. We will surely find out the truth,’ said Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau (pictured last night) led Western governments in blaming an Iranian missile strike for the Ukrainian International Airlines crash which killed 176 people
President Donald Trump on Thursday said he has serious doubts that the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran was caused by mechanical failure after Pentagon officials claimed that the jet was shot down
An image from the flight tracker website Flightradar24 showing the path of the Ukranian International Airlines jet which crashed just over two minutes after taking off from Tehran
It is not believed that Iran shot down a passenger jet on purpose, especially because it had taken off from Tehran with 82 Iranian nationals on board.
However, tensions were at their height on Tuesday night after Iran attacked US bases in revenge for the death of Qassem Soleimani and it is feared that a nervous Iranian air defence could have mistaken the plane for a bomber.
Kyiv yesterday sent missile specialists to examine the wreckage of the Boeing jet, saying a shoot-down was one of the ‘main theories’.
A special commission of experts sent to Tehran includes specialists who found evidence that the Russian weapon had brought down MH17.
Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran in 2007, and Iran has displayed them in military parades.
Commercial flights have transponders which broadcast their identity, speed and altitude at an internationally agreed frequency. Flight 752 would have been visible on the radar screen of the Tor battery.
The US National Transportation Safety Board said late last night that it would ‘evaluate its level of participation in the investigation.’
The extent of the NTSB’s role could be limited by US sanctions on Iran.