Did Iran accidentally shoot down the Ukraine International Airlines fearing retaliation from the United States after firing dozen of missiles towards US bases in Iraq? Before we move on, one must remember the recent incident India-Pakistan skirmish where India accidentally shot down its own helicopter in Jammu and Kashmir.
The fateful Mi-17 helicopter was shot down by an Indian air defence system when Indian military establishment was on high alert and anticipating retaliation from Pakistan following the February 26 Balakot airstrikes. The helicopter was shot down by an Israeli-designed air defence system killing all six Indian Air Force personnel on board.
Aviation experts are questioning the statements of Iranian government where they claim that the deadly Ukrainian plane crash near Tehran was the result of technical failures. Independent aviation experts talking to the EurAsian Times state that planes just do not blow-up mid-air and a “shootdown” could be the most likely explanation.
Tehran said technical issues were the cause behind the Ukrainian International Airlines (UIA) fatal crash, which followed shortly after take-off from Imam Khomeini International airport, killing all 176 people on board.
The Ukrainian embassy in Tehran initially imitated the same statement, but later removed its statement, and instead said it was for an official commission to evaluate the cause of the tragic accident.
While some aviation experts said it was too early to determine the cause of crash, the OPS group, an aviation risk-monitoring group, said: “We would recommend the starting assumption to be that this was a shootdown event, similar to MH17 – until there is concrete evidence to the contrary,” highlighting photos of the crash site which they said, “show visible projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section.”
The Ukraine International Airlines also questioned the likelihood of technical problems, asserting there was “nothing wrong” with the three-year-old Boeing plane, which had undergone a scheduled technical check only two days earlier. “We guarantee the safety of our aircraft and the high qualification of our crews,” a spokesperson said.
Vadim Lukashevich, an independent Russian aviation expert, told The Independent that from the data he has analyzed from the public domain, it was obvious that there was some sort of fire on board, and that the plane shattered on impact. The rest, he said, was “hypothesis”.
“In any air accident, there are usually three factors: human, weather and mechanical. Here you can add a fourth – the tensions between Iran and the US. We know that a few hours before the crash, Iran fired dozens of missiles at US bases in Iraq. The Iranians were expecting some response by air and were on high alert.
It is too early to rule out an external strike, he said – even if the Iranian claims that one of the engines caught fire turned out to be true. “An engine fire does not exclude the possibility that it was caused by a missile strike,” he said. “The fact that Iran instantly negated all explanations barring the mechanical is very suspicious.”
Iran has said it will not be handing over the plane’s black box recorder to US plane manufacturer Boeing. Zeev Sarig, the former head of Ben Gurion airport in Israel, said a technical failure could be behind the plane crash or an explosive device onboard.
This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed. pic.twitter.com/TsTlyY34Vd
— The Boeing Company (@Boeing) January 8, 2020
Speaking to Russian news agency RIA, Sarig said that while a full inquiry was necessary, the two key likelihoods were, “a bomb on board that runs on a timer or altitude monitor, exploding when the plane reaches a certain height” or “a technical malfunction about which we don’t know anything yet. Unfortunately from what I see, that looks less likely.”
Experts talking to the EurAsian Times also mentioned that one must not ignore the Iranian air defence systems which last year shot-down a sophisticated Global Hawk drone by Khordad 3 missile, a version of the SAM Raad.
The Global Hawk drone “is not a stealthy aircraft — it’s very large” with a wingspan of 40 meters, similar to a Boeing 737 and there are chances that Iran confused the Ukraine International Airlines with the American Global Hawk drone.
According to the Military Balance — an annual publication by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) — Iran has a range of air defence systems including 32 batteries of Russian-designed S-300 surface-to-air missiles and locally developed Bavar 373, SAM Tabas and SAM Raad which are regularly displayed at military parades.