Aviation expert says sabotage 'cannot be ruled out' in Ukrainian Airlines plane crash

8 January 2020, 16:54

Investigators are examining the wreckage of the downed plane
Investigators are examining the wreckage of the downed plane. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

An aviation expert has said that the horror crash in Iran which killed 176 people was the result of a "catastrophic failure" and "nothing can be ruled out at the moment", as Iran refused to hand over the plane's black box.

Expert Julian Bray told LBC News that the crash could be a result of "sabotage or a technical problem", but that this will not be confirmed until an investigation takes place.

He went on to explain that there could however be complications with any investigation, as it will be conducted by authorities in Iran who have so far refused to hand over the plane's flight recorder which would explain what happened in its final moments.

Mr Bray said: "The plane was a fireball whilst in the air, and this is not the result of just one engine being on fire, as the plane had two engines so would have been able to continue.

"The plane must have broken up in the air."

He explained that as the catastrophe happened so close to the airport, it is hard to tell if foul play was involved.

Mr Bray also said: "There are reports of bullet holes in the wreckage, however these could easily be from shrapnel from an exploding engine."

Follow all the latest updates on the ongoing crisis in Iran from LBC News here.

Rescuers are examining the debris
Rescuers are examining the debris. Picture: PA

His comments come after the boss of Ukrainian Airlines Yevgeny Dykhne said today: "The aircraft was in good condition... We guarantee the serviceability of our aircraft and the high qualification of our crews".

In a statement on its website, the Ukrainian national carrier said its flight from Tehran to Kyiv disappeared from radar just a "few minutes" after taking off from Tehran International Airport.

Social media footage shows the plane came down in a fireball crash shortly after take-off from Tehran's airport, hours after Iran launched rocket strikes on US troops in the country.

The company said its staff were "clarifying the exact number" of passengers on board the flight, which took off 6.10am local time (2.40am UK) on Wednesday.

The statement said: "According to preliminary data, there were 167 passengers and nine crew members on board. UIA representatives are currently clarifying the exact number of passengers on board.

"Passenger lists will be posted on the airline's website after final confirmation of their presence on board of the aircraft.

"The airline expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims."

WATCH - LBC News's Martin Stanford explains the latest on the crisis in Iran

The UIA statement added all flights to Tehran were suspended with immediate effect until further notice and added it was investigating the cause of the crash.

It said: "As at 9.30am (local time), UIA in close cooperation with the aviation authorities, takes all measures to determine the causes of the air accident. In parallel, the airline will be contacting the relatives of the passengers, providing all possible assistance in the current situation.

"The flight was operated on a Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft (registration UR-PSR).

"The aircraft was built in 2016 and delivered directly to the airline from the manufacturer. The last scheduled maintenance of the aircraft took place on 06 January, 2020.

"Investigation will be conducted with the involvement of the aviation authorities of Ukraine, Iran, representatives of the Boeing manufacturer, the airline, and the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine.

"The airline will inform about the progress of the investigation and the causes of the tragic event as soon as they are identified."

The US Federal Aviation Administration had earlier barred commercial flights from entering Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a statement: "My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew."

Mr Zelenskyy, in a statement on the president's website, said he had ordered the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to open criminal proceedings over the UIA plane crash in Tehran.

He said: "An investigation commission should be set up of representatives of the civil and aviation agencies responsible for civil aviation. We have to work out all the possible versions.

"Regardless of the conclusions regarding the causes of the Iranian catastrophe, the airworthiness of the entire civilian fleet will be tested.

"I keep all measures on personal control. I very much ask everyone to refrain from speculation and putting forward untested versions of the disaster before the official announcements."