The chair of the Canadian government agency that probes air disasters says it would be standard procedure for investigators to examine whether Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 was accidentally or intentionally shot down.
Transportation Safety Board (TSB) chair Kathy Fox said she was speaking in general terms because Canada is not leading the investigation of what happened to Flight 752, which was shot down by an Iranian missile on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people on board, including at least 57 Canadians. Iran is the lead investigator.
But, Ms. Fox said, when air crash investigators approach an accident scene, “everything is on the table" – despite whatever public pronouncements are made about a disaster.
After days of denying it shot down the plane, the Iranian government on Saturday admitted it did in fact bring it down. It said the missiles were launched in error. Iran’s statement said the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre." Amid the heightened tensions with the United States, the military was at its “highest level of readiness,” it said.
“Notwithstanding what people may have said publicly, we don’t take that just at face value,” the agency chair told reporters at a briefing in Ottawa on Monday. “We need to corroborate that.
“There is no doubt this aircraft was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. That, I don’t think anybody doubts. Certainly all the evidence suggests that," she said.
“The issue about whether it was accidental or intentional, that is something that investigators would normally pursue – to understand the sequence of events, and the circumstances and the context.”
Two Canadian TSB investigators landed in Tehran on Monday to do what they can for the investigation. Canada’s authority in the probe is fairly limited right now. As a country that has lost citizens, it has the right under an international aviation treaty to visit the accident scene, to receive facts approved for release by Iran and have a copy of the final report. Other countries, such as Ukraine, where the aircraft originated, have higher-tier status in the investigation.
Also on Monday, the last of 10 Canadian diplomats also reached the Iranian capital to offer consular assistance to the victims’ families and help identify the dead.
Flight 752 had been en route to Kyiv on Wednesday when it crashed shortly after taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran. It went down on the outskirts of Tehran just hours after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at U.S. forces.
Ms. Fox said Ottawa is pressing Iran for more authority in the probe. “Many levels of our government are pushing for us to play a more active role,” she said.
Iran has granted Canadian crash investigators some additional rights. They’ve been invited to inspect the wreckage of the plane, and Tehran has asked the TSB for technical expertise in accessing and downloading data from the flight recorders, which Ms. Fox said were damaged. Canada has also been invited to attend when Iranian investigators access the black box data.
Ms. Fox said the TSB is trying to gain the confidence of investigators in hopes of playing a bigger role. “We’re striving to build trust and build a working relationship with the Iranian accident investigation bureau.”
She said the TSB would not endorse the investigation if it concludes “there are serious problems with the report because it’s either inaccurate or incomplete or misleading.”
Ukraine, the country where the aircraft was registered and operated, has also asked Canada to assist.
Some of the questions Canada hopes to see answered, TSB director Natacha Van Themsche told reporters, include why the airspace above Tehran was “not closed considering the tensions and what had happened just hours earlier."
Ms. Fox said she doesn’t believe enough has been done globally in terms of precautions for commercial airlines flying over conflict zones, even after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in July, 2014, by a surface-to-air missile over rebel-controlled territory in Ukraine. She pointed to a Dutch government investigation of the 2014 disaster that concluded: “Practice shows that states in which there is an ongoing armed conflict will not implement restrictions for their airspace on their own initiative.”
With a report from the Associated Press