US officials have “high confidence” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian plane that crashed moments after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, according to reports.
The Boeing 737-800 was struck by a Russian-built Tor M-1 surface-to-air missile, known to NATO as the SA-15 Gauntlet, Newsweek reported, citing a Pentagon official, a senior US intelligence officials and an Iraqi intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The shootdown was accidental, one Pentagon and one senior US intelligence official told Newseek, coming hours after after Iran fired 22 ballistic missiles on two bases in Iraq housing US forces in retaliation for the US killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
Iran’s anti-aircraft systems were likely active following the country’s missile strike, which came in response to the US killing of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, sources told Newsweek.
US intelligence picked up signals of a radar being turned on, sources told CBS News. American satellites also detected two surface-to-air missile launches shortly before the plane blew up, the network said it was told.
A source who attended an intelligence briefing by federal officials Thursday told CBS that it appeared that missile parts were found near the crash site.
President Trump, speaking at the White House, said the plane could have been downed by “mistake.”
“Well, I have my suspicions. I don’t want to say that, because other people have those suspicions also. … Somebody could’ve made a mistake on the other side,” the president told reporters. “Some people say it was mechanical. Personally, I don’t think that’s even a question.”
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
US Central Command declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Newsweek, which also did not get a response from the National Security Council or State Department.
Images that circulated Wednesday appeared to show fragments of a Tor M-1 missile said to have been found in a suburb of Tehran.
Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said Thursday that contact with a Tor M-1 system was among the possible causes for the plane’s crash. The others were a mid-air collision with a drone or “other flying object,” a terror attack and a technical failure leading to an engine explosion.
A London-based global information company also said the flight was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile.
“Photographs purportedly taken near the site of the crash and circulated on social media appear to show the guidance section of an SA-15 Gauntlet short-range, surface to air missile, which landed in a nearby garden,” the firm IHS Markit said in a report, according to USA Today, adding that it could not confirm the authenticity of the images but “assesses them to be credible.”
In a preliminary report, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said the crew did not declare an emergency and were trying to return to the airport when the plane went down. Iranian officials have said the plane apparently suffered engine failure.
But IHS Markit said that publicly available air traffic data was “not consistent” with Iran’s claim, adding that the flight data shows a normal ascent until the plane disappears at 8,000 feet.
“This is consistent with a catastrophic incident onboard the aircraft,” the report said, according to USA Today.
“A pilot of an airliner that took off from Tehran airport shortly after UIA Flight 752 told an IHS Markit source that he watched the aircraft take off and then explode in midair,” the report added.
Iran officials have said they have recovered the plane’s “black boxes” — the audio and data recorders — but that they won’t allow Boeing or US aviation officials access to the devices.