Iran admitted on Saturday that it mistakenly shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger jet, killing all 176 passengers and crew onboard.
The armed forces joint staff in a statement said “human error” caused the disaster and promised to bring those who made the mistake to justice and make reforms in its air defence system.
The Boeing 737-800 bound for Kyiv crashed moments after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday, hours after Iran’s missile attacks on US forces based in neighbouring Iraq. The Iranian attack was in retaliation for the US killing of Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani days earlier.
“Iran’s armed forces were at the highest alert levels to respond to threats by the US president and armed forces to hit back [at] many targets in Iran in case of [Iran’s] retaliation,” the statement added.
The statement added that the aircraft “while turning, looked like getting close to a sensitive military centre of the guards” which radar systems identified as a “hostile object . . . and by human error and unintentionally shot down the plane” and caused “martyrdom of some dear countrymen and killing of foreign nationals”.
The US, the UK and Canada announced on Thursday that the aircraft had been mistakenly shot down. But Iranian authorities denied it and accused the US of trying to divert attention away from the funeral procession of Soleimani in which millions of Iranians participated and also to protect Boeing — the manufacturer of the 737-800 — and its share price from any further decline.
The acknowledgment on Saturday could cause public uproar in Iran and is a huge embarrassment for the Islamic republic and its elite forces, notably the Revolutionary Guards.
According to Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s foreign minister, 82 of the passengers were Iranians, while 63 were from Canada, which has large Ukrainian and Iranian diasporas. Eleven of the dead, including nine crew members, were Ukrainian citizens. The others included three Britons, three Germans, 10 Swedes and four Afghans.
The aircraft took off at 6:13am local time from Tehran’s international airport and crashed about five minutes, according to local media, which added that it came down near Sabashahr, a suburb south-west of the capital. Iranian officials said the flight recorders — the plane’s two black boxes — had been found, but insisted the data had to be examined in Iran.
Iranians onboard included students and graduates from some of the country’s most prestigious universities.