March 17, 2021 By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Iran’s civil aviation authority is blaming “human error” as the reason why a passenger jet was shot down by the Iranian military in January 2020.
Two missiles were fired at Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 shortly after it took off from Tehran on Jan. 8 last year, when “the aircraft was misidentified as a hostile target by an air defence unit,” the agency’s final report into the crash states.
The report, which Canada’s Transportation Safety Board will comment on Thursday, backs up what the Iranian military said last year: human error caused the tragedy.
Iran initially denied involvement, but three days later said the plane was shot down by accident after being mistaken for a missile amid heightened tensions with the United States.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard shot down the Kyiv-bound Boeing 737-800 several days after then-U.S. president Donald Trump ordered a strike that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, near the Baghdad airport.
All 176 people on board the jetliner were killed, including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and dozens of others bound for Canada.
A series of mistakes led to the fatal missile launch, the investigation team found.
An incorrect read on the plane’s flight direction due to “human error” caused an operator to perceive the aircraft as flying toward Tehran at a low altitude, rather than flying west away from the main airport, which it was.
The operator tried to alert the command centre to the apparent threat, “but the message was never relayed,” the report states.
“Without receiving a go-ahead or response from the command centre, he came to identify the target as a hostile one and fired missile (sic) at the aircraft against the procedure planned.”
The first warhead exploded near the aircraft, hurling more than 2,500 pieces of shrapnel toward it at nearly 6,500 km/h — more than five times the speed of sound — damaging the plane and aircraft systems but leaving its structural integrity intact, according to the report.
“(T)he three cockpit crew members were all still alive. They appeared to have sustained no physical injuries.”
The second missile “likely” did affect the aircraft, but the plane plummeted to the ground regardless, crashing near the airport and exploding on impact six minutes after takeoff and three minutes after the first missile detonated, the report said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Iran to provide justice and transparency to the victims and their families.
In December, Iran pledged to pay $150,000 to each family that lost someone on the plane, but the offer was rejected by Ralph Goodale, the former Liberal public safety minister who was named Canada’s special adviser on the response to the crash.
He said Iran doesn’t have the right to offer compensation to victims’ families unilaterally and that the final amount will be subject to negotiations between Iran and Canada and the four other countries whose citizens were killed on the plane.
Trudeau has promised Canada will offer a pathway to permanent residency for some family members, while those already here could apply to stay if needed. He also designated Jan. 8 as the National Day of Remembrance for Victims of Air Disasters.
The federal government also said scholarships would be set up in memory of the victims.