176 die in Ukrainian plane crash in Iran
Flight crashed hours after Iran launched missile attack on US bases in Iraq
Tehran: A Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday, just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital's main airport, turning farmland on the outskirts of Tehran into fields of flaming debris and killing all on board.
The crash of Ukraine International Airlines came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Ukrainian officials initially agreed, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is ongoing.
The plane carried 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, he said.
Airline officials said most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, transiting through there to other destinations.
Reports indicate that passengers on this flight are usually Iranian students coming back to Ukraine after winter holidays. 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 in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
It remains unclear what happened. Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines.
The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said. Authorities later said they found the plane's so-called "black boxes," which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.
The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-km flight, slammed into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran.
Videos taken immediately after the crash show blazes lighting up the darkened fields before dawn.