1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Ukrainian crew 'tried to turn back' before plane crash

January 9, 2020

Witnesses report that the plane was engulfed in flames when it tried to return to the airport in Tehran. Investigators say the crew never signaled for help before the crash.

Iran Flugzeugabsturz
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/E. Noroozi

The crew on board the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed in Iran did not radio for help and had attempted to turn back to the airport, according to initial findings by Iranian investigators on Thursday.

Details of the crash emerged in a preliminary report from the Iranian Civil Aviation Authority after the Boeing 737-800, destined for Kyiv, Ukraine, crashed just outside of Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board. 

The flight operated by Ukraine International Airlines experienced a sudden emergency just after takeoff from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Iran early Wednesday morning, investigators said.

The report did not provide further details on the crash. 

Fiery crash

On its website, the aviation authority said the aircraft experienced a technical problem and tried to turn back. 

"The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash," the statement read. 

Radar screens lost sight of the jet once it reached 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). The pilot did not send signals for help. 

Read more: Third-safest year for flying, German report shows

Witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft reported that the plane was on fire just before it crashed.

"According to eyewitnesses, a fire was seen on board the plane which grew in intensity," authorities reported. 

The jet exploded upon impact with the ground. The explosion was likely linked to the aircraft's fuel tank, which was full for its journey to Kyiv. 

Speculations of foul play rejected

Both of the plane's "black boxes," which contain the aircraft's data and communication records, have been recovered — but some memory has been lost due to damage, Iranian authorities said. 

Transport Minister Mohammed Eslami on Thursday said Iranian authorities are investigating the data and will later hand the boxes over to Ukraine, reported Iranian news agency Isna.

The timing of the crash, just hours after Iran fired missiles at a US airbase in Iraq, had many speculating that foul play was involved.

Eslami rejected such suggestions of a "suspicious" crash and cited a "technical defect" as the cause of the plane's downing. 

Ukraine reacts

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged the public to refrain from speculation and conspiracy theories over the crash and vowed a thorough investigation.

"Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash," said Zelenskiy on Thursday.

"We will surely find out the truth," he said, adding that Ukrainian investigators had arrived in Iran to assist the investigation. 

Ukraine's secretary of the country's security council, Oleksiy Danylov, in a Facebook post said their investigators were considering various causes during its probe into the crash, including a possible missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion, and terrorism. 

Zelenskiy declared January 9 a national day of mourning in Ukraine. Citizens from seven countries were on board the flight, including 63 Canadian nationals. 

The Boeing 737-800 aircraft was a different model to that of the newer 737-MAX jets, which have been grounded over catastrophic technical issues that led to two deadly crashes

kp/stb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

Every evening, DW sends out a selection of the day's news and features. Sign up here.