Update: It has been confirmed by the Pentagon. Iran shot down the Ukrainian plane.
Based on a slew of reports coming out of Iran and Ukraine, I believe it’s very likely the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed three minutes after takeoff from Tehran on route to Kyiv, Ukraine, was taken down inadvertently by Iran. It’s possible we will know the truth very quickly as both black boxes have been found by Iranian authorities. Of course, it’s also possible the telemetry, communications recordings, and flight information does not come out intact; if Tehran believes the information on the devices implicates them in taking the airliner down, they’re not going to admit to it.
Let’s take a look at the immediate information that has emerged about the crash. It’s this information that drew me to my conclusion. I’m not ready to make accusations at this point, but I will keep my belief that it is “very likely” Iran shot down the airliner until evidence sways me in one direction or the other. Call this a conspiracy theory if you’d like, but even Ukraine withdrew their initial assessment of engine failure as President Zelensky has called his team to conduct a full investigation.
Reliable plane and crew
“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.
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The Boeing 737-800 (not the notorious 737 MAX 8) was three years old and had its last maintenance test two days before the crash. These planes are designed to fly for decades.
Two explosions and shrapnel
A video posted by a BBC Iran Affairs Correspondent Ali Hashem allegedly shows the plane in the moments before it crashed. It appears to be on fire throughout the video with a secondary explosion or flaring flames lighting up just prior to hitting the ground.
Here’s the video enhanced by Daily Mail that includes zoomed footage, demonstrating the plane was burning as it came down.
There was also an unverified report that eyewitnesses claimed there were two explosions heard before the plane hit the ground. This alone does not indicate something external caused it like a missile strike or the plane hitting a small drone, but planes generally do not blow up in midair without cause. Moreover, the sudden speed reduction does not jibe with a single engine catching fire.
Speaking with an eye witness in Parand just now. They said that they heard two explosions before the UIA plane crashed to the ground.
— Daniel Rád (@DanielKRad) January 8, 2020
When there’s engine trouble, planes generally maneuver to make an emergency landing. Considering they were two minutes out from the airport, even one of the engines catching on fire would allow them to turn around and go back to the airport. They certainly would have communicated their situation. But instead, we see a sudden loss of speed and altitude indicative of an explosion.
This plane maintained 275kts and over 7 thousand ft of altitude until loss of contact. If this was a “technical problem” flight data would have shown loss of altitude and air speed. This is a sudden catastrophe. https://t.co/E4VUrLIuIW pic.twitter.com/qLkDVqWsrj
— Jared Carpenter (@jarheadjared14) January 8, 2020
But the only pieces of physical evidence made public so far are images that shows shrapnel damage indicative of air defense measures.
One heck of Shrapnel Damage for Engine failure ! pic.twitter.com/ssPjFLNzIP
— James Allan (@jamra3663) January 8, 2020
All evidence, including video, points to PS752 being shot down by a surface-to-air missile, burning up in mid air and falling to the ground. There's extensive damage on the plane that could've only been caused by shrapnel from a mid-air detonation. pic.twitter.com/TpsfUeM0u8
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) January 8, 2020
Zelensky’s change of heart
When news broke that the plane went down, the Ukrainian Embassy issued a statement:
“According to preliminary data the plane crashed due to engine failure for technical reasons. As of now versions of terrorist attack or missile attack are ruled out.”
However, that statement was rescinded and President Zelensky called on his Prosecutor General to begin a criminal investigation into the crash. It seems likely Zelensky learned something that made his administration suspect it wasn’t just engine failure.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) January 8, 2020
“Missing” communication in last moments
This is arguably the most damning piece of evidence pointing to an Iranian cover up. Allegedly, these experienced pilots who were having “engine failure” did not communicate any problems to air traffic control. In fact, they didn’t communicate anything at all according to Hassan Razaeifar, the head of air crash investigation committee. Even during catastrophic engine failure, pilots will immediately communicate their situation to air traffic control.
Instant response from Iran about cause of crash
The official response from Iran within an hour after the crash is that the one of the plane’s engines caught fire randomly, causing the experienced pilot to lose control and take the plane crashing to the ground quickly. This account is not plausible.
Critics have questioned the Iranian account, calling it the “fastest investigation in aviation history,” according to Daily Mail.
Then, there’s the black boxes Iran has recovered. They aren’t giving them to Boeing, which is standard operating procedure. They’re going to handle the boxes themselves.
#Iran is refusing to hand over the black boxes found in the wreckage of the #ukrainianplane which crashed in #Tehran this morning. Meanwhile, #Ukraine has said that earlier statements on the cause of the crash were unofficial. https://t.co/xRBJXSbmTt
— The Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post) January 8, 2020
Iranian missile operators were expecting air raids
Let’s not bypass the most obvious challenge to Iran’s story. There aren’t many days when they are firing ballistic missiles at their enemies. It’s been years since they’ve done anything close to what they did in their attack of Iraqi military bases yesterday.
This also means they were likely at full alert with their air defense operators poised to watch for an American counter attack.
Here’s my theory: Iran ordered air defense operators to take down any planes that weren’t scheduled to take off or land in Tehran. The operators were given the schedules and flight plans of all incoming and outbound planes. But this particular plane had a problem and was delayed by an hour, meaning its timing and flight path would not have matched what was on the list. An missile operator saw the plane, noticed it wasn’t on the flight schedule, and followed orders. That close to Tehran, they wouldn’t have much time to confirm anything.
It’s just a theory, and as theories go it’s light on evidence. Some are speculating about the plane accidentally hitting a surveillance drone, of which there would have been many flying at the time. Others are pointing to terrorism such as altitude-triggered bombs. To me, the most likely scenario is someone thought the Americans were coming and fired.
There’s a chance it really was just engine failure, but I’d say that’s less likely than Jeffrey Epstein killing himself. Iran could clear it up by giving Boeing the black boxes. But they won’t. I’ll call it “very likely” they took down the Ukrainian plane.