EDITOR’S NOTE: Community leaders initially reported to Global News that 27 people with Edmonton connections had been killed in the plane crash. However, they and Global News have confirmed 13.
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.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a plane crash that claimed the lives of dozens of Canadians and others headed to Canada is believed to have been caused 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,” he said.
“This may well have been unintentional.”
He added that the news “will undoubtedly come as a further shock to the families who are already grieving in the face of this unspeakable tragedy.”
The Boeing 737-800 flight was six minutes into its trip from Tehran to Kyiv when it caught fire and crashed in a field Wednesday.
All 176 passengers and crew on board were killed, including 63 Canadians. According to the prime minister, a total of 138 passengers were supposed to catch connecting flights to Canada.
The victims include families, students and many in the academic community at at least 20 post-secondary institutions.
Thirteen people with connections to Edmonton were killed, Global News has confirmed along with leaders in the city’s Iranian community. Initially, however, they believed the toll was more than two dozen.
Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, said news that the plane was likely shot down was “very scary.”
“When I put myself in the shoes of the family, it’s a huge difference. It changes the whole scenario of who is responsible for this.”
Akbari emphasized the heritage society has no political or religious affiliations and is focused on helping the families of the victims. That said, he stressed families, friends and all Canadians need to know what happened.
“Everybody deserves to know the truth,” he said, adding he hopes the black box data from the plane is shared with agencies who have the capacity to analyze the information and provide a report.
Trudeau told reporters that Ukrainian authorities will have access to the information contained within the black boxes.
He would not speculate on what Canada’s reaction to Iran would be, saying that a response would need to start with a “clear understanding” of what had occurred.
While high tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the wake of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general are likely connected to the incident, Trudeau said a full investigation is required to establish exactly what happened.
“That is what we are calling for,” he said.
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.
The Transportation Safety Board later said it accepted an invitation to attend the crash site.
“The TSB will be working with other groups and organizations already on site,” the agency said.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said that he has spoken with international colleagues to gather more information about the crash, including an “important discussion” with his Iranian counterpart.
Appearing at a press conference with his British counterpart Dominic Raab, Champagne said Canada and the U.K. are in agreement on the need for de-escalation of Iran tensions.
Trudeau and Champagne’s comments come on the heels of a series of reports out of the U.S. that also claim the Ukrainian International Airlines flight was brought down by a missile.
Initially, both Ukrainian and Iranian aviation officials pointed to a mechanical malfunction, but Ukraine later walked the claim back, saying it was too early to make a definitive assessment.
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 Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general revered by the country and its leader.
CBS News, citing its own sources, reported that U.S. intelligence picked up signals of a radar being turned on and two surface-to-air missile launches. The sources said the launches were detected shortly before the plane exploded and that missile fragments were found near the crash site.
The crash unfolded mere hours after Iran sent missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Thursday before Trudeau’s announcement, U.S. President Donald Trump said he has “suspicions” about the cause of the crash, dismissing the claim it was a mechanical problem.
He noted that the aircraft was flying in a “pretty rough neighbourhood.
“I have my suspicions. I don’t want to say anything because other people have their suspicions also,” he said.
“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side… I have a feeling that something very terrible happened, very devastating.”
Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization denied the allegations, calling them “illogical rumours,” according to state-run news.
“Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical,” the head of the organization, Ali Abedzadeh, said, as reported by ISNA.
The pre-dawn crash, captured on video by witnesses, lit up the darkened sky before exploding upon impact.
One expert said there are indications that the crash wasn’t caused by mechanical failure.
“For example, there was no mayday call, the aircraft was climbing at the right altitudes and rate of climb. It had the right speed showing on radar,” said Mary Schiavo, a former U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general and a pilot.
If there was something wrong, she added, the airline would have received automated messages from the plane.
The way the plane crashed also offers some clues, she suggested. Schiavo also said that testing the wreckage for residue of explosives would be “conclusive.”
“Certainly the way the plane came down, there was fire in the sky. That is usually an explosion, a bomb, a missile. That’s what statistics tell us likely happened when you have an explosion in the sky.”
Schiavo was speaking with Global News Radio 640 Toronto prior to Trudeau’s announcement.
Aviation consultant Keith Mackey, who also commented before the press conference, said it would have been logical for Iran to have made preparations for possible military action from the U.S.
He speculated that Iran may have had anti-aircraft equipment set up in case Tehran was attacked, and then someone targeted the commercial plane by accident.
“At 6 o’clock in the morning, there’s not much activity. Somebody pushes the wrong button, thinks that’s a fighter coming in and shoots it down,” said Mackey, who is the president of Mackey International Aviation Safety Consultants.
If that’s indeed what happened, it would not be the first time a plane was targeted by mistake, he said in reference to the 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight 17.
“(The airline) elected to fly over the Ukraine, over the Crimea where the separatists were having a war, and somebody mistook the airplane for a incoming missile and shot it down, killed everybody on board,” he told Global News Radio CKNW.
— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News, The Associated Press and Reuters