Decoding the mystery behind the Boeing 737 crash in Iran

This Wednesday morning, i.e 8th Jan 2020, Tehran was palpitating with tension as Ukraine International Flight 752, bound for Kyiv, took off. Hours before this, Iran had fired missiles targeted at two military bases in Iraq which allegedly housed the troops of the United States. Iranian forces were alerted for an upcoming American counterstrike.

There was nothing unusual about neither the takeoff of the plane nor its ascent if we go by the preliminary satellite data. Few minutes into it and the Boeing 737 is burning in flames when it crashed to the ground. 176 people were killed in the accident, on board.

The crash is currently the center of investigation and that has now turned to be a reason for tension between the US and Iran. Initial suggestions were that a missile might have brought down the UIA Boeing 737-800. Now, such suggestions have been rejected and Iran’s military has issued a statement on early Saturday stating that the plane had been shot down owing to human error.

The incident

At 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT) on Wednesday, 8th January, the UIA flight PS572 took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport. It was a Boeing 737-800 and that is one of the international airline industry’s most widely used aircraft models. The plane had turned around to try and return to the runway, before leaving the airport’s air space. Just shortly afterward, it plunged to the ground, engulfed in fire.

The investigation

According to the international protocol, the country where the plane has crashed usually leads the investigation. The crashing aircraft was made in the US, so the US officials, including people from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), are to participate in the inquiry.

Iran was initially not ready to hand over any sort of information to the US authorities. However, the US’ representative at the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization said to the Reuters on Thursday that Iran had formally invited the NTSB to come and participate in the investigation and so it has agreed to send an investigator. The plane’s manufacturer, Boeing has also said that it is ready to assist in the investigation and will support the NTSB.

For a while, it seemed like, given the limited amount of prima facie knowledge of the facts, the cause about the plane’s crash could take a year or more to be figured out,  due to the difficulties faced in the investigative work and the investigators involved from multiple governments. What happened, in this case, could prove to be even more complicated since there are uprising tensions between Iran and the US.

Cause of the crash

Technical issues were blamed first. However, the timing of the crash, which was just hours after the Iranian missiles were launched at US targets in Iraq, has invoked doubts about some other possible causes.

Aviation experts have also displayed their doubts on the claims being made, that the crash and the fire was caused due to an engine fire. Commercial aircraft are designed as such, to be able to withstand, in general, a failed engine so that they could land to safety.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told publicly on Thursday that the evidence suggested that an Iranian missile brought down the plane by accident. At a conference in Ottawa, Mr. Trudeau told a news reference so and also that this might have been unintentional, suggesting that they have intelligence from multiple sources. The timing of the crash has given room to immediate suspicions. Iran had fired at American forces on early Wednesday in response for a US airstrike on Friday which got a top Iranian general killed.

On Tuesday, just hours prior to the crash, the F.A.A. had restricted American airliners from flying over Iran, the reason being that commercial planes could be mistaken for military aircraft. Many non-American carriers had rerouted flights in response to this, to avoid Iran and Iraq.

The flight’s “black box” also known as the flight data recorders were recovered from the crash wreckage and need to be sent to the plane’s maker for analysis. However, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Ali Abedzadeh, told that Iran would not send these recorders to Boeing.

However, Saturday morning witnessed a revelation that shook the entire world. Iran announced on Saturday that its military “unintentionally” shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week,  killing all 176 aboard, after the Iranian government had repeatedly denied Western accusations that it was responsible

Plane’s Flight Profile

Manufactured in 2016, the aircraft last underwent scheduled maintenance on Monday. UIA added that there were two pilots and an instructor on board, with good experience. Each of them had spent about 7600 to 12000 hours of flight time on the 737-800 before the crash, the airline said. The UIA’s vice president suggests that with the experience of the crew, the probability of an error is bleak. The airline had been founded in 1992 and had never gone through a fatal accident before.

The flight PS752 was a 737-800 and it was the most popular model made by Boeing. Almost 5000 such models had been produced since the launch in 1994.

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