Losses and Aviation Safety

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.” Iran admits to unintentionally shooting down Ukrainian Boeing 737 airliner

Revolutionary Guards officials had been ordered to appear on state media and give the public a full explanation.

On Jan. 11, 2020 Iran’s military announced that it had accidentally shot down early morning on Jan. 8 a Boeing 737-800 airliner belonging to Ukraine International Airlines, blaming human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base.

After days of tension since the jet crashed near Tehran, the same day that Iranian missiles struck American bases in Iraq, the admission was a stunning reversal. As told by Ney York Times in fact, Iran initially maintained that mechanical issues had brought the Boeing down, killing all 176 people aboard.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani said on Twitter soon after the military released its statement. He offered condolences to the victims’ families and said investigations were underway. The military said the person responsible would face legal consequences.

International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied intelligence assessments had already concluded that Iranian missiles brought down the plane most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

“The little credibility that the Islamic Republic had among its supporters suffered a major blow tonight,” said Rouzbeh MirEmbrahim, an independent Iran analyst in New York and a consultant with the United Nations. “This tragedy undermines the image Iran has cultivated as a military power and weakened it significantly both regionally and internationally.”

Iranians began expressing anger toward the military on social media soon after the announcement, many of them using the term “harshest revenge,” which officials had repeatedly promised in the wake of the American MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Revolutionary Guards commander, last week.

“They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people,” wrote Mojtaba Fathi, a journalist.

The Iranian military’s statement said the plane “took the flying posture and altitude of an enemy target” as it came close to an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base. It said that “under these circumstances, because of human error,” the plane “came under fire.”

The military said it would undertake “major reform in operations of all armed forces” to make sure that such an error never happened again. It said Revolutionary Guards officials had been ordered to appear on state media and give the public a full explanation.

In a statement of his own, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tried to place some of the blame on the US, saying on Twitter that the disaster was “caused by U.S. adventurism.” The military’s statement said there had been information suggesting the US was “preparing to aerially target sensitive defense and key sites and multiple targets in our country, and this led to even more sensitive defense posture by our antiaircraft units.”

However, the Iranians asked the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to help with the investigation, and the State Department granted waivers to allow the American agency to help. 

As already reported, on Jan. 9 a video appearing to show a missile fired into the Tehran sky early Wednesday morning and striking an object in the sky surfaced. Around that time, Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff.

As noted by The Aviation Geek Club contributor and world famous modern military aviation author Tom Cooper “One can hear the airliner, one can see the SAM, the detonation, then hear both of these, and see the airliner going down… According to the poster [of the video] this was the SECOND SAM to hit the Ukrainian B737.”

Cooper was also the first to highlight that the Boeing 737 was apparently shot down by two Russian made SA-15 surface to air missiles (SAMs).

“A pilot underway minutes behind the Ukrainian B737 says, from his POV, it was clear: either a bomb on board, or shot down. The only force operating SA-15s in Iran – is the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].”

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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