Iran retrieves data, cockpit talk from downed Ukraine plane

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iran has retrieved some data, including a portion of cockpit conversations, from the Ukrainian jetliner accidentally downed by the Revolutionary Guard forces in January, killing all 176 people on board, an Iranian official said yesterday.

That’s according to a report on the website of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, which described the official’s remarks as part of the final report that Tehran plans to issue on the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752.

The development comes months after the January 8 crash near Tehran. Iranian authorities had initially denied responsibility, only changing course days later, after Western nations presented extensive evidence that Iran had shot down the plane.

The shootdown happened the same night Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targetting United States (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. Iran, however, has not acknowledged that, only saying that after the ballistic missile attack, its air defence was sufficiently alert and had allowed previously scheduled air traffic to resume — a reference to the Ukrainian plane being allowed to take off from Tehran.

Debris at the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. PHOTO: AP

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

For days after the crash, Iranian investigators combed the site, sifting through the debris of the plane.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Head Captain Touraj Dehghani Zangeneh said yesterday that the Ukrainian passenger plane’s black boxes have only 19 seconds of conversation following the first explosion, though the second missile reached the plane 25 seconds later. The report quoting him did not elaborate.

He said the first missile explosion sent shrapnel into the plane, likely disrupting the plane’s recorders.

He did not reveal any details of the cockpit conversation that was retrieved.

Representatives from the US, Ukraine, France, Canada, Britain and Sweden — countries whose citizens were killed in the crash — were present during the process to gather data from the recorders, Zangeneh said.