US officials believe Iran accidentally shot down Ukraine passenger plane: reports

U.S. officials on Thursday said they believe Iran accidentally shot down a Ukraine-bound passenger plane this week in Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, according to multiple media reports.

The Boeing 737-800, belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran. The flight, carrying mostly Iranian and Iranian-Canadians, was headed to Kyiv.

The crash was initially attributed to technical issues, but U.S. officials suspect it was likely accidentally downed by Iranian air defenses. 

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Speaking to reporters about the incident, Trump said "somebody could've made a mistake" as the plane was “flying in a pretty rough neighborhood. He added the crash had "nothing to do" with the U.S.

“I have my suspicions,” Trump said during a White House event on environmental regulations. He did not elaborate on or offer evidence for his speculations. 

Asked if he thought it was a mechanical issue, Trump said he didn't "think that's even a question, personally.”

“I have a feeling that it’s just — something very terrible happened,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin TrudeauJustin Pierre James TrudeauTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' EU foreign policy chief says US can invite Russia as 'guest' to G-7 Canada's Trudeau responds to Trump: Russia not welcome in G-7 MORE said in a Thursday press conference that his country has intelligence from multiple sources including its allies and own agencies that "indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile." Trudeau added that the downing "may well have been unintentional."

One official told Reuters that U.S. satellites had detected the launch of two missiles shortly before the plane crashed.

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A 19-second video clip released by The New York Times later on Thursday appears to show the moment the plane was shot down shortly after departing from the airport in Tehran.

Footage reportedly shows the plane being hit by a missile and what appears to be mid-air explosion shortly after, though the plane does not explode and continues to fly. The plane later crashes in the clip while allegedly attempting to return to the airport.

Ukrainian officials have outlined several possible scenarios of their own to explain the deadly crash, including collision with a drone, terrorism or a missile strike, or an engine explosion.

The country’s investigators want to search the site of the crash southwest of Tehran for possible debris from the Russian-made missile used by the Iranian military, according to Reuters.

Iranian aviation officials, meanwhile, attributed the crash to an unknown technical malfunction and said the plane had started to turn back to the airport. Iran cited witnesses on the ground and in a separate aircraft who said they saw flames from the plane while it was still in the air. 

“Since the Ukrainian pilot was trying to return to the airport, a rocket, missile strike or the country’s defense system is out of question,” said Hassan Rezaifar, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization commission for accidents investigation, quoted by Iran’s state news agency, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“No missile part was found in the crash scene.”

A U.S. official told the WSJ that satellite data pointed to nothing out of the ordinary on the jet until the sudden loss of data and altitude, which suggested potential hostile action to some officials.

It is unclear how much U.S. investigators will be able to glean from the crash site as Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, said he would not offer the U.S. or Boeing access to the downed plane’s black box. 

Rezaifar, however, said the investigation into the crash will be conducted according to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s international standards which allow the home country of both the airline and plane manufacturers to appoint a representative to participate in the probe.

The plane crash occurred hours after Iran launched missiles on two Iraqi air bases used by U.S. troops as retaliation for the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. The White House has said there were no U.S. or Iraqi casualties in that attack.

The Hill has reached out to the Pentagon and White House for comment.

—Updated at 4:33 p.m.