Wednesday 8 January 2020 3:27 pm

Iran plane crash: Ukraine U-turns on engine failure as cause of Boeing 737 crash

Ukraine’s embassy in Iran has dropped a reference to engine failure as a cause of the Boeing 737 plane crash that killed 176 people earlier today.

Iranian state media had initially reported that “technical issues” were behind the disaster after the Boeing 737-800 crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s international airport.

Read more: Iran ‘refuses’ to give black box from plane crash to Boeing

Having initially said that engine failure was behind the tragedy, Ukraine’s embassy in Iran has now released a second statement stating that the causes have not yet been disclosed and that previous comments were not official.

Asked in a Kiev briefing whether the plane could have been shot down by a missile, Ukraine Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk refused to rule it out but warned against speculation.

Ukraine International Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 took off this morning but stopped sending data minutes later, according to flight tracker Flightradar24.

The disaster took place amid rising tensions between the US and Iran following the US’s assassination of Iran military commander Qasem Soleimani.

Early on Wednesday, Iran fired missiles at two military bases in Iraq where US-led troops are based, causing oil prices to spike briefly as geopolitical tensions surged.

Read more: Airlines divert flights around Iran and Iraq after missile attacks

The US subsequently banned its airlines from flying over Iraq and Iran amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran after the assassination of Qasem Soleimani.

A host of other airlines have also diverted flights and flight data earlier shows a British Airways jet avoiding the airspace.

Iran has reportedly refused to hand over the plane’s black boxes to Boeing, and Iranian state media reported that it was not yet clear which country Iran would send the device to for analysis.

Three Brits were among the 176 people killed by the Boeing 737-800 plane crash.

A total of 167 passengers and nine crew members were on the Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev.

Read more: UK condemns Iran attack on US military bases in Iraq

Iranian state media said there were no survivors and earlier quoted officials from Tehran’s international airport who said “technical problems” were behind the disaster.

Eleven Ukrainian citizens including the nine crew members died in the crash. Another 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians also perished, as well as 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has cut a holiday to Oman short to fly back to Kiev. He warned against any “speculation or unchecked theories” and said his thoughts were with the families of the victims.

“My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” Zelensky said.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev if the plane could have been downed by a missile, Ukranian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

Read more: Boris Johnson accused of hiding as Iran row escalates

Ukraine International Airlines has now suspended flights to Tehran indefinitely. The airline said the aircraft’s last scheduled maintenance took place on Monday.

The Boeing 737-800 is one of thousands in skies around the world.

Boeing, which is under fire for two other fatal crashes over the last 15 months, released a statement saying: “We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”

The US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) said on Wednesday afternoon it was monitoring the situation and would seek to participate in the investigation under international law because the 737-800 was a US-certified plane.

An NTSB spokesperson said the organisation was “following its standard procedures for international aviation accident investigations, including long-standing restrictions under the country embargoes.”

“As part of its usual procedures, the NTSB is working with the State Department and other agencies to determine the best course of action.”

Ukraine International Airlines’ flight 752 left Tehran’s airport at 6.12am and lost contact two minutes later, flight tracker Flightradar24 said.

Boeing’s 737-800 model in the incident is a different model to Boeing’s 737 Max model that was involved in two fatal crashes in the space of five months. The 737-800 is not under scrutiny for any safety issues. 

Read more: Boeing fires CEO over 737 Max crisis

Boeing has come under fierce scrutiny after the two previous crashes killed 346 people.

Authorities have grounded the Max since March around the world, and Boeing’s chief executive Dennis Muilenburg was fired over Christmas.