Iran says Ukrainian plane turned back before crashing

Iranian investigators said the Ukraine International Airline jet was engulfed in fire before it crashed. (IRNA/AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2020

Iran says Ukrainian plane turned back before crashing

  • A Ukrainian security official said investigators were considering seven different possible versions of events
  • Most of the victims were from Iran or from the large Iranian diaspora in Canada

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities have said a Ukrainian airliner, which crashed outside Tehran with the loss of all 176 people on board, had turned back after suffering a problem, as Ukrainian experts joined the investigation Thursday.
Both Canada and the United States called for a full investigation to determine the cause of Wednesday's crash, which came shortly after Tehran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in response to the killing of a top Iranian general in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
There was no immediate indication that foul play may have caused the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane to go down soon after take-off, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against speculating on the crash causes.
"The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash," the Iranian Civil Aviation Organisation said on its website late Wednesday.
"The plane disappeared from radar screens the moment it reached 8,000 feet (2,400 metres). The pilot sent no radio message about the unusual circumstances.
"According to eyewitnesses, a fire was seen on board the plane which grew in intensity," the organisation added, reporting the first findings of its investigation into the crash.
The organisation said it was considering evidence from the ground as well as reports from a second aircraft which was flying above the Ukrainian Boeing 737 as the disaster unfolded.
Heartbreaking details started emerging about the victims, most of them from Iran or from the large Iranian diaspora in Canada.
Body bags were lined up on the ground, and the passengers' personal items - including luggage, clothes, a Santa Claus doll and a boxing glove - were scattered in the debris.
According to Ukraine, 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons were on board, as well as 11 Ukrainians - including nine crew.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Ottawa following the fatal plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, that claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians. pic.twitter.com/uMTdY11jDO


About 30 came from the Iranian community around Edmonton, capital of Alberta province in western Canada, where resident Payman Parseyan described the tragedy as "devastating".
"Every one of our community members was touched in one way or another," Parseyan told Canada's national broadcaster CBC.
Some 45 Ukrainian aviation experts and security officials flew to Tehran early Thursday to participate in the investigation, including "deciphering the black boxes" discovered by Iranian authorities at the crash site, the Ukrainian president said.
A Ukrainian security official said investigators were considering seven different possible versions of events.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine's national security and defence council which is tasked with coordinating the investigation, said the leads being studied included both technical malfunctions and foul play, but told AFP that "there is no priority version" yet.
The leads under consideration include a collision with another airborne object, a rocket from Iran's missile defence system, an engine explosion caused by a technical problem, and an explosion on board the aircraft due to an "act of terror", Danilov said on Facebook.
He told AFP that for the moment there was no reason to believe that the airliner had been hit by a missile.
Civil aviation chief, Ali Abedzadeh, said Iran would cooperate with Ukraine, but would not send the black boxes to the United States, with which it has had no diplomatic relations for four decades.
According to aviation experts, only a handful of countries are capable of analysing black boxes - notably Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would ensure a "thorough investigation" and that "Canadians' questions are answered".
Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne spoke by telephone on Thursday with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, Tehran said.
Canada is home to a large Iranian diaspora, and UIA offers relatively inexpensive flights between Toronto and Tehran, with a layover in Kiev.
It was the ex-Soviet country's privately owned main carrier's first fatal crash.


Hagia Sophia prayers ‘sparked Turkey’s new COVID-19 cases’

Updated 5 min 44 sec ago

Hagia Sophia prayers ‘sparked Turkey’s new COVID-19 cases’

  • Government figures disputed by health professionals who warn that several provinces bearing brunt of pandemic

ISTANBUL: Prayers at Hagia Sophia sparked new coronavirus cases in Turkey as preventive measures were not strictly followed during the congregational worship, according to health professionals.
Around 350,000 people swarmed the Hagia Sophia on July 24 and the area around it after the Byzantine-era landmark became a mosque again after functioning for decades as a museum.
Some of the 500 guests inside the mosque, including parliamentarians and journalists, have been diagnosed with the disease. There was a lack of social distancing and mask wearing.
The number of new daily COVID-19 cases began rising and exceeding 1,000 just after the Eid Al-Adha holidays. The government’s decision to withhold figures about the number of patients in intensive care and those who are intubated has increased concern about the country’s coronavirus reality.
Health professionals contacted by Arab News said the pandemic had worsened in the last month, and that the opening of Hagia Sophia for prayers without appropriate and tough precautions in place was a reason for the surge.
“Following the opening of Hagia Sophia, we also heard of many cases among politicians,” a doctor who preferred to remain anonymous told Arab News. “But it is because they go through a regular screening every three days in order to make sure they are healthy.”
The doctor, who works in a hospital in the central Anatolian province of Sivas, added: “If ordinary citizens also get a similar test, the real case rates will be higher. If things go on like this, there will be nobody in the hospital who is not infected … There might even be a shortage of medical personnel who either resign from the job or become sick.”
A “long list” of Muslim and Christian world leaders, including Pope Francis, were invited to the inaugural prayer at the Hagia Sofia, according to Dr. Ergin Kocyildirim, who is a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and an assistant professor in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. “It seems like none of them attended the prayer, but coronavirus did,” he told Arab News.
Kocyildirim said that a visit from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the Hagia Sophia the following week made it look like social distancing rules were hard to uphold inside the landmark due to the large crowds who wanted to see the president or take pictures.
“I believe those images made many health care professionals feel upset, as a sudden step like this might ruin the months-long efforts to contain the virus. While trust takes time to be established, it can be lost quickly,” he added.
Health professionals warned that several Anatolian provinces were bearing the brunt of the pandemic with a sharp rise in local cases since the beginning of June, when anti-contagion measures were relaxed and intercity travel as well as crowded wedding ceremonies were permitted.
Government reports of daily cases have been disputed by some health professionals and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB), claiming that the actual daily figure is more than 3,000. The Health Ministry has also been criticized for ignoring the filiation method as a form of contact tracing among close relatives in order to artificially decrease the number of cases and open the way for tourism and the normalization of economic activity.
“When thousands of health professionals are fighting against the disease, and when dozens of citizens lose their lives because of the pandemic, everyone and especially public authorities should have been much more responsible,” Murat Emir, a parliamentarian from the main opposition Republican People’s Party and a doctor by profession, told Arab News.
“Unfortunately, during the opening of the Hagia Sophia Mosque, thousands of citizens gathered without respecting social distancing measures and wearing face masks. Various municipalities from Anatolia organized bus tours to this opening, and nobody knows whether they got an official code from the Health Ministry for domestic travel or sat with social distancing during transit.”
Emir warned that such gatherings where social distancing measures were not applied were enough to fuel the spread of COVID-19.
To date 5,858 people have died from the virus in Turkey, according to official figures, and the country is not yet on the list of safe travel countries regularly updated by the EU.