LONDON: Despite early denials from Tehran, recently released leaked audio shows that officials must have been aware that a Ukrainian jet was hit by Iranian missiles as soon as it had happened.
Released on Sunday on Ukrainian television, the transcript exposes a damning conversation between air traffic control and the pilots of a separate Iranian plane that was in the area at the time and witnessed the events.
The Iranian pilots reported seeing missiles and an explosion, before asking whether the area was safe.
The transcript shows them asking: “Is this an active area? There’s lights like a missile. Is there anything?”
The controller replied: “Nothing has been reported to us. What’s the light like?” The pilot replied: “It’s the light of a missile.”
Minutes later, air traffic control lost all contact with the Ukrainian plane, and the Iranian pilots then reported seeing a “big light from an explosion.”
The Ukraine International Airlines jet was hit by two missiles, killing all 176 people on board.
In response to the release of the audio, Iran has said it will no longer share evidence with Ukraine to assist the investigation into the downing of the passenger plane.
Tehran initially denied any involvement in the incident, before admitting the plane was shot down by its missiles three days later.
Appearing on Ukrainian television, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy confirmed the authenticity of the audio and said it “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile.”
Iranian officials called the release of the audio a “secret” and a “strange move.”
Iran is said to have already been preventing Ukraine from investigating black box recordings, and this move will make it more difficult for officials to piece together the facts.
The handling of the incident within Iran prompted an outburst of anti-government rallies in cities and universities across the country.