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Mistaken identity: Three times passenger airliners have been shot down in error

Iran plane crash: Justin Trudeau on what Canada’s next steps will be
WATCH ABOVE: Iran plane crash: Justin Trudeau on what Canada’s next steps will be

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the plane that crashed this week near Tehran was probably downed by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, which “may well have been unintentional.”

Of the 176 passengers and crew that died aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, 138 were booked to fly on to Toronto from Kiev.

Across Canada, devastating stories are coming to light of lives cut short, especially in the Iranian-Canadian community.

Civilian passenger aircraft have been shot down, intentionally or otherwise, before. Most of the most serious incidents have involved some form of mistaken identity.

Trudeau: Confirmation about evidence about Iran plane crash came overnight
Trudeau: Confirmation about evidence about Iran plane crash came overnight

September 1, 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007

A Korean airliner bound from New York to Seoul, South Korea refuelled in Anchorage, Alaska, before heading across the Pacific to its final destination.

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However, a navigational error made at the beginning of the second leg of the flight caused KAL007 to edge further and further to the north of its original course, until it ended up in closed Soviet airspace.

READ MORE: Video purportedly shows Iranian missile hitting Ukraine airliner before crash

The Soviets said they mistook the Boeing 747 for a similar U.S. spy aircraft. Soviet fighter pilots scrambled to intercept the jet say they fired warning shots of tracer bullets to signal to the pilots, though they made no attempt to contact it by radio.

Though the fighter pilots doubted that it was a military plane once they’d seen it up close  (“I wondered if it was a civilian aircraft,” one later said) they were ordered to shoot it down with air-to-air missiles, and did.

269 people died.

The incident worsened Cold War relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, already tense following the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

U.S. lied about shooting down Iran Air Flight 655
U.S. lied about shooting down Iran Air Flight 655

July 3, 1988: Iran Air Flight 655

The years after the 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, in which dozens of U.S. diplomats were held for more than a year in Tehran, led to tense relations between the two countries that were barely short of war.

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In addition, U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf could be caught in the Iran-Iraq war: in 1987, for example, the frigate USS Stark was attacked with Exocet missiles by an Iraqi pilot who thought it was Iranian.

READ MORE: Trudeau says Iranian missile likely brought down plane, killing dozens of Canadians

About a year later, in July of 1988, USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655, a passenger flight between Iran and Dubai, killing 290 people.

The ship’s captain said he mistook the Airbus A300 airliner for an Iraqi F-14 fighter jet. A number of claims made by the captain, notably that Flight 655 was outside established air routes, were later shown to be inaccurate.

The incident is still remembered with resentment in Iran. Earlier this week, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani tweeted a reference to the 290 deaths.

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What role will Canada play in investigation into Iran plane crash?
What role will Canada play in investigation into Iran plane crash?

July 17, 2014: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Given that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, it seems unlikely that it would get caught in the crossfire between Russia and Ukraine.

However, Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by a Russian anti-aircraft missile, killing 298 people, mostly Dutch citizens.

The missile was fired by separatists backed by Russia, though the exact relationship is murky. Dutch investigators assert that the plane was shot down by a Russian army anti-aircraft unit, but Russia denies this.

READ MORE: Over 20 Canadian universities and colleges mourn students, faculty killed in Iran plane crash

Dutch prosecutors have laid murder charges against four Russians who are thought to be living in Russia. Three have backgrounds in Russian military intelligence.

While Dutch authorities have issued international arrest warrants for the four men, and have scheduled their trial for March of this year, they are very unlikely to appear as defendants, at least in person.

In the leadup to the incident, several Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down by Russian, or Russian-linked, troops. The soldiers who shot down Flight 17 may have mistaken it for a Ukrainian cargo aircraft.

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