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.
Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3-1/2-year-old Boeing 737-800. Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
Unverified video from Iranian TVbefore it went down in a field. The video, which has not been authenticated by CBS News, appears to show the plane zig-zagging while descending before exploding into a fireball.
The carrier said the plane had its last routine maintenance Monday, Agence France Press (AFP) reported.
Airline officials said most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, transiting through there to other destinations.
Staff at the Boryspil airport in Kiev 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 Zelensky extended his condolences to the families of the victims. The country’s prime minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, confirmed the casualty toll.
The airline 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,” the airline’s president, Yevhen Dykhne, said at a briefing, choking back tears. He wouldn’t comment on speculation linking the crash to the Iranian missile strikes.
The carrier is privately owned and Ukraine’s largest.
Initial statements by Iranian and Ukrainian authorities said a malfunction was suspected. But a statement on the Ukrainian Embassy’s website saying the crash was caused by an engine problem and not terrorism was later deleted.
Zelensky 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 remained 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. He didn’t elaborate.
Authorities later said they found…
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