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Iran retrieves cockpit recordings from downed Ukrainian jet

August 23, 2020

Iran has released a report from the cockpit recordings and data of a Ukrainian passenger plane shot down by its military in January. An Iranian official urged that the black box data not be politicized.

Wreckage of a Ukraine Airlines jet
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS.com/R. Fouladi

Iran has retrieved some data, including cockpit conversations, from a downed Ukrainian passenger plane, the nation's Civil Aviation Organization said in a report on Sunday.

The aircraft was accidentally shot down by Iran's Revolutionary Guard forces shortly after takeoff from Tehran in January, killing all 176 people on board. Iran had initially denied responsibility before changing course after Western nations presented extensive evidence that its armed forces were responsible.

Sunday's announcement marks the first official report on the contents of the cockpit voice and data recordings. The black boxes were sent to Paris in June, where international investigators have been examining it.

Passengers alive after first explosion

The Ukraine Airlines jetliner was apparently targeted by two missiles. The first exploded shortly after the plane took off from Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport, possibly damaging the aircraft's radio equipment. The second struck the jet, causing a ball of fire in the air before it crashed into a playground on the outskirts of the Iranian capital.

Protests in Iran after downing of Ukrainian plane

The head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, Captain Touraj Dehghani Zangeneh, said Sunday that the black boxes for the Boeing 737-800 contained only 19 seconds of conversation following the first explosion, though the second missile struck 25 seconds later.

"Nineteen seconds after the first missile hit the plane, the voices of the pilots inside the cockpit indicated that the passengers were alive," Zanganeh was cited as saying by state television.

Iran 'safe and ready'

Representatives from the United States, Ukraine, France, Canada, Britain and Sweden — countries whose citizens were killed in the crash — were present during the data gathering process, Zanganeh said in the report.

"Data recovery activity was all done with the aim of safety and preventing similar incidents," he said. "The data analysis from the black boxes should not be politicized."

He added that Iran's airspace is now "safe and ready" for international flights.

After initially denying responsibility for the downing, Tehran acknowledged the incident as an "unforgivable mistake" by its Revolutionary Guard. The missile attack occurred the same night Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq, its response to an American drone strike that killed revered Guard General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. 

dv/rc (AP, Reuters)