A Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed outside of Tehran Iran last week was accidentally shot down by Iranian missiles, Iran military officials said in a surprise admission Saturday.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani Tweeted shortly after the military made its official announcement.
He said an internal military investigation “concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.” He added that the investigations continue and indicated those responsible for the “unforgivable mistake” would be prosecuted.
As late as Friday Iranian officials had been considering taking a different stance that involved spinning the Jan. 8 plane crash as the result of a mechanical failure within the airplane, sources familiar with the deliberations told the New York Times.
However, international pressure had been building to take responsibility for the crash of flight 752, which departed from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport bound for Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv. The crash killed all 176 passengers and crew aboard. Video of two missiles striking the airplane was published by the New York Times.
American and allied intelligence assessments had determined before Iran’s announcement that the plane had been shot down by Iranian missiles. The crash happened amid escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. Iran threatened to take action against the U.S. in retaliation for killing Qasem Soleimani, a Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In a statement televised throughout Iran, Revolutionary Guard Commander Ali Hajizadeh said that one operative mistook the passenger jet for a cruise missile because of its sharp, unexpected turn toward an Iranian military base.
“Unfortunately, because of the hasty decision of one person, this great disaster happened,” Hajizadeh said.
The announcement triggered outrage throughout Iran. University students and others throughout the country led protests denouncing the government over its early attempts to pin blame for the plane crash on problems with the Boeing 737 NG. Iran’s initial response may have sought to take advantage of Boeing’s 737 Max crisis.
Demonstrators took to the streets demanding that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resign. Iranian officials are trying to quell the unrest with military and police action against the protesters while simultaneously promising to punish those who were responsible for the crash.
The Iranian government said it has arrested 30 people but it did not identify them by name or profession. It also said the military would undertake “major reform in operations of all armed forces” to make sure that such an error wouldn’t happen again.
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews has been actively involved in the investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash involving the Boeing Max 737. He is representing family members of victims killed in that crash and visited the crash site and surrounding areas several times last year. Mike handles all types of aviation litigation for the firm, involving both civilian and military aircraft.