EDITOR’S NOTE: On Jan. 10, the Canadian government updated the number of Canadians killed in the Jan. 8 Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran from 63 to 57.
Questions continue to surround the crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, which killed 176 passengers — including 63 Canadians — following news from Canadian officials that an Iranian missile was likely behind the incident.
Most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and had connections through there to other destinations. Of those, 138 were destined for Canada.
The fatal crash — which sent ripples across Canada and the world — happened mere hours after Iran fired missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq.
Here’s what we know so far.
A Boeing 737-800 operated by Ukraine International Airlines went down in Shahedshahr, southwest of Tehran, within minutes of takeoff on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The plane was fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-kilometre flight, which commenced about an hour late, departing Imam Khomeini International Airport at around 6:12 a.m. local time.
The flight headed west, but never made it above an altitude of 2,400 metres, according to flight-tracking data. It slammed into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr.
Witness video shows a fiery object careening through the night sky, descending rapidly. The plane hit the ground in a bright explosion, lighting up the darkened grassy field.
Why did the plane go down?
Canadian officials said Thursday it appears the airliner was brought down by an Iranian missile.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence, that indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“This may well have been unintentional.”
Trudeau said the exact details of what happened have not been determined.
According to Newsweek, the plane was hit by a Russian-made anti-aircraft, surface-to-air missile system, known as Gauntlet. Pentagon sources told Newsweek the incident was accidental. The sources said that Iran’s system was likely active at the time due to the recent retaliatory missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq, which was a response to the American killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Meanwhile, an initial Iranian report suggested that the plane caught fire minutes into the flight. The plane was trying to turn back while ablaze, according to the report, but the crew never made a radio call for help.
Iranian authorities were quick to blame a technical malfunction for the crash, but the problem was not specified in their initial report, which referred to the crash as an “accident.”
Ukrainian aviation officials had also initially pointed to engine problems but later backtracked, saying no cause had been determined.
How safe was the plane?
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 model and about three-and-a-half years old.
The model of aircraft has been in production since the 1990s, according to experts, and has maintained a good safety record. The jetliner involved in the Iranian crash passed a routine servicing on Jan. 6, just days before it went down over farmland near Tehran.
The model is very common — thousands of them are used by airlines around the world — but its ties to Boeing have fuelled safety questions.
Boeing is still reeling from a crisis involving its 737 MAX 8 jets, which have been grounded since March 2019 after two crashes that killed a total of 346 people.
It’s still unclear when the model will fly again.
Boeing officials did not say much following the crash, issuing a short statement offering condolences and help to the Ukrainian airline. The company said it was gathering more information about the crash, but provided few other details.
How is the investigating proceeding?
The investigation is currently in the hands of Iranian officials.
The Canadian government is pushing to be a part of it, but diplomatic relations with Iran faltered in 2012, when Canada labelled the country a state sponsor of terrorism.
Trudeau told reporters Thursday the degree to which Canada will be involved in the investigation is still being worked out. Though Canada has no formal diplomatic ties to Iran, Trudeau said Iranian authorities have indicated they would be open to granting visas for government officials.
Trudeau has said Iran will share information on the crash with Ukraine during the investigation process.
The plane’s black boxes, which record data and audio from the cockpit, have been found. But due to the strained relationship between Iran and the U.S., it’s believed unlikely that the recorded information would be shared with Boeing, an American company, or whether the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board would be allowed to take part.
Typically, investigators from the country of the plane’s origin participate in major crashes abroad.
Who was onboard?
The plane was carrying 176 people from all walks of life.
The passenger manifest included 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians — including the Ukrainian crew. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals.
Many of the passengers were international students attending universities across Canada, returning to the country after visiting family over the holiday break. There were also newlyweds on board and families with young children.
Here’s a look at some of the victims who called Canada home.
Rescue workers continue to assess and investigate at the scene of the crash.
The remains of the victims have been taken to the coroner’s office for identification, according to an Iranian report.
Repatriating the bodies will be an upcoming task for Iran and all parties involved, which, for the Canadian victims, could be further complicated by the lack of Canada-Iran diplomatic relations.
— With files from The Associated Press and Reuters