Iran denies shooting down Ukrainian airline, Ukraine is unsure, but evidence is mounting

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/AP)

Britain and Canada said publicly on Thursday that their intelligence strongly suggests Iran shot down a Ukrainian International Airlines passenger jet minutes after takeoff from Tehran's main airport Wednesday morning, probably by accident, and U.S. intelligence officials told the news media they had a high level of confidence that Iran had brought down the Boeing 737-800 with Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Iranian officials strongly disputed the claim. Most of the 176 passengers were Iranian, and 63 were Canadian.

"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," said Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization. The plane was "on fire" before it crashed, so "scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumors are illogical," he added. The New York Times, which has verified video of the strike, explains that the plane wouldn't have blown up midair because Iran's air defense system "is designed to explode near aircraft, creating shrapnel that takes a plane out of the sky, rather than directly hit it."

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky wrote on social media that "the missile version is not ruled out, but it has not been confirmed yet." He asked "all international partners, in particular the governments of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, to submit data and evidence concerning the air crash to the commission investigating its causes." Ukrainian crash investigators in Tehran are seeking permission to search the crash site for missile fragments, though Iranian TV "showed the crash site being bulldozed," BBC News reports.

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Iran has invited the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing to join the international investigation of the crash, and the NTSB confirmed Thursday night it has designated an accredited investigator. Watch The Associated Press' Zeke Miller explain how U.S.-Iranian tensions and sanctions complicate U.S. participation. Peter Weber

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.