Soldiers carry a coffin containing the remains of one of the eleven Ukrainian victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 plane disaster during a memorial ceremony at the Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Jan. 19, 2020.
Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
The joint investigation between Iran and Ukraine into last months downing of a passenger airliner appears to have collapsed amid acrimony over the level of compensation Iran should pay, as well as the leak of a recording that appears to confirm Iranian officials knew immediately that their military had shot Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752 out of sky with a missile.
The dispute between Tehran and Kyiv closes one of the last useful channels of information about the Jan. 5 disaster that killed all 176 people on board, including 57 Canadian citizens and 29 permanent residents of Canada.
While Ukraine and Iran initially agreed to investigate the catastrophe together, the co-operative mood quickly soured over access to the crash site and other evidence. Still, the presence of Ukrainian investigators in Tehran played an important role in forcing Iran to gradually reveal what had happened to the plane, and there had been lingering hope Tehran would eventual allow the planes so-called black boxes which contain critical data about the flights last moments, as well as cockpit conversations to be taken to Kyiv for analysis.
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That possibility seemed to evaporate after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed an Iranian compensation offer of US$80,000 per victim as “too little.”
“Of course, human life is not measured by money, but we will push for more,” Mr. Zelensky told Ukraine’s 1+1 channel in an interview televised on Sunday. He called again for the black boxes to be brought to Kyiv, and rejected an offer to have Ukrainian officials examine the devices in Tehran.
Shortly after the interview was aired, the same channel published a recording of a Farsi-language conversation between the air traffic control tower at Tehrans Imam Khomeini International Airport and the pilot of an Iranian plane who said he had seen an explosion in the sky on the morning of Jan. 5.
In the wake of the leak of the audio which Iran acknowledged was legitimate and said it had provided to Ukrainian investigators on the condition it remain secret Iran said it would no longer share information with the Ukrainian side. This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them, Hassan Rezaifar, the head of Irans Civil Aviation Organization, said on Monday.
The recording adds to the already substantial body of evidence indicating that Iranian officials knew immediately what had happened to Flight 752, even though the government insisted for three days after the disaster that the plane had crashed because of a technical problem.
“A series of lights like… yes, it is missile, is there something?” the pilot of Aseman Airlines flight 3768 asks the controller. Flight 3768, en route from the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, was due to land in Tehran at 6:25 am on Jan. 5, just 13 minutes after the Ukrainian plane was destroyed.
“How many miles away? Where?” the controller responds.
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The pilot replies that he thinks the flashes came from the direction of the city of Payam, which has been identified as the location of the Tor M-1 anti-aircraft system, operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, that shot down the airliner.
“We were not informed of this,” the controller replies. He asks the Aseman Airlines pilot whether he thought the missile was heading towards or away from Tehran.
Iran’s air defences were on heightened alert the morning of Jan. 5. A few hours earlier, the IRGC had fired a volley of ballistic missiles at U.S. military targets in neighbouring Iraq in retaliation for the Jan. 2 assassination of IRGC commander General Qassem Soleimani. “Dear engineer, it was an explosion,” the Aseman pilot responds. The controller then repeatedly tries to contact the Ukrainian jetliner, but gets no reply. After a delay, he tells the Aseman Airlines pilot that he and his passengers can continue with its planned landing at Tehran’s airport. “I don’t think there will be any problem for you.”
God forbid! the pilot replies.