Analysis from the flight recorders of a downed Ukrainian passenger plane shows it was hit by two missiles 25 seconds apart and that passengers were still alive for some time after the impact of the first blast, Iran said in a report released Sunday.
But the chair of Canada’s safety investigator, the Transportation Safety Board, said Iran’s report failed to address key questions on the attack that killed 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens and 30 residents.
The announcement by the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization marks the first official report on the contents of the cockpit voice and data recordings, which were sent to France for reading in July.
Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB, said the Iranian report fails to address why Iran’s airspace remained open to civilian aircraft amid extreme military tensions with the United States, why passenger airlines decided it was safe to fly at that time, and what the “underlying human or organizational factors” were that led to the decision to fire the missiles.
“This is not the final safety investigation report but rather a brief summary of the contents that were retrieved from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders last month in Paris and is consistent with information that TSB investigators received while attending the download of the recorders in France,” Ms. Fox said in a statement.
The report comes as Iran says it will initiate compensation talks in October with Canada and other countries that lost citizens when the Iranian military shot down the civilian jetliner, according to Touraj Dehghani-Zanganeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization.
Tehran had denied, then later acknowledged, it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian airliner early on Jan. 8 at a time of tensions with the United States. The U.S. had killed an Iranian general five days before the plane’s downing and Iran retaliated late Jan. 7 by launching missiles at a U.S. military base in Iraq.
The second missile hit the aircraft 25 seconds after the first, but just 19 seconds of that gap was captured on the recordings because of damage from the first missile, Mr. Zanganeh said. The aircraft’s flight crew – two pilots and an instructor also travelling in the cockpit – tried to keep control of the plane until the last moment, Mr. Zanganeh said.
Iran’s investigation is being carried out under United Nations aviation rules calling for probes aimed solely at preventing future accidents, separately from any judicial process. But the probe has been swept up in regional and domestic tensions.
“The data analysis from the black boxes should not be politicized,” Mr. Zanganeh said.
Amir Arsalani, whose sister Evin Arsalani of Ajax, Ont., and her husband and daughter died in the tragedy, said such statements confirm his belief the missile strikes were political, and meant to dissuade the U.S. from striking back in reply to the military-base attack. “Who’s going to make it [political]? My sister and her family were not of any party or movement. [Neither were] all the other innocent lives that were lost,” Mr. Arsalani said.
Mr. Arsalani said his questions cannot be answered by the plane’s flight data recordings. “We knew they brought down the plane on purpose,” Mr. Arsalani alleged. “We knew there wouldn’t be much information we’re looking for from the black box recording.”
Among his questions: Why did the airline allow its plane to fly as Iran was firing missiles at U.S. soldiers in Iraq? Why was the plane’s departure delayed for almost an hour? Was this to allow Iran to time to prepare the deadly strikes?
“We don’t have any clear answers yet,” Mr. Arsalani.
Ukrainian International Airlines did not respond to questions in two e-mails on Sunday.
The Iranian report did not include transcripts of the pilots’ conversations between the two missile strikes. Canada’s TSB, which helped download and analyze the recording in July and was granted some access to the investigation because of the number of Canadians killed, said is not able to release details of the data recordings without the permission of Iran, which is leading the investigation.
“At 02:44:56 UTC a sound similar to detonation outside of the aircraft striking it is heard on the CVR [cockpit voice recorder],” the five-page report said. “Right after the detonation sound, the three flight crew members inside the cockpit noticed the unusual situation and immediately began taking actions required to control the aircraft accordingly. The CVR recording ended at 02:45:15 UTC.”
With reports from Reuters and Associated Press
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