A Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed Wednesday just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital’s main airport, killing all on board. It turned farmland on Tehran’s outskirts into fields of flaming debris.
The crash of the Ukraine International Airlines aircraft came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800.
The carrier said the plane was built in 2016 and “underwent its last planned technical maintenance” on Monday, Agence France Press reported.
Airline officials said most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, transiting through there to other destinations.
Staff at the Boryspil airport in Kyiv told CBS News passengers on that flight are usually Iranian students coming back to Ukraine after winter holidays.
The plane had 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board — the Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy extended his condolences to the families of the victims. His office said he had cut his visit to Oman short and was returning to Kyiv because of the crash. The country’s Prime Minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, confirmed the casualty toll.
“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” Ukraine’s parliament speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, said in a Facebook statement.
Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran in the wake of the crash.
“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” Yevhen Dykhne, president of the Ukraine International Airlines, said at a briefing.
Zelenskiy ordered a sweeping inspection of all civil airplanes in the country, “no matter the conclusions about the crash in Iran.”
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
It remains unclear what happened. Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared one of its engines caught fire. The pilot then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight.
By Kayongo Brian Timothy