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Misaligned battery, communication gap led to missile hit on Ukrainian jet

July 13, 2020 06:40 AM

Misaligned battery, communication gap led to missile hit on Ukrainian jet
Associated Press

Tehran : A misaligned missile battery, miscommunication between troops and their commanders, and a decision to fire without authorisation all led to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner in January, killing all 176 people on board, a new report says.

The report released late Saturday by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization comes months after the January 8 crash near Tehran. Authorities had initially denied responsibility, only changing course days later after Western nations presented extensive evidence that Iran had shot down the plane.

The report may signal a new phase in the investigation into the crash, as the aircraft’s black box flight recorder is due to be sent to Paris, where international investigators will finally be able to examine it. It also comes as public opinion remains low over Iran’s government as it faces both crushing US sanctions and vast domestic economic problems.

The shootdown happened the same night Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq, its response to the American drone strike that killed Guard General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3. At the time, Iranian troops were bracing for a US counterstrike and appear to have mistaken the plane for a missile. The civil aviation report does not acknowledge that, only saying a change in the “alertness level of Iran’s air defense” allowed previously scheduled air traffic to resume.

The report detailed a series of moments where the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 could have been avoided. The report said the surface-to-air missile battery that targeted the Boeing 737-800 had been relocated and was not properly reoriented. Those manning the missile battery could not communicate with their command centre, they misidentified the civilian flight as a threat and opened fire twice without getting approval from ranking officials, the report said.

Western intelligence officials and analysts believe Iran shot down the aircraft with a Russian-made Tor system, known to NATO as the SA-15.

The report notes that the Ukrainian flight had done nothing out of the ordinary up until the missile launch, with its transponder and other data being broadcast.

The plane had just taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport when the first missile exploded, possibly damaging its radio equipment, the report said. The second missile likely directly struck the aircraft, as videos that night show the plane exploding into a ball of fire before crashing into a playground and farmland on the outskirts of Tehran.

The report put the blame entirely on the crew of the missile battery.

Already, six people believed to be involved in the incident have been arrested, judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili reportedly said in June. He said at the time three had been released on bail while the other three remained held.

In recent months, Iran has repeatedly delayed releasing the aircraft’s so-called black box, which includes data and communications from the cockpit leading up to the shootdown. The US, under international regulations, has a right to be part of the investigation as the plane involved was a Boeing.

Iran is to send the black box to France on July 20, where Ukrainian and French experts are expected to examine it, IRNA news agency recently reported.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries

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