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French, US investigators to help probe plane likely downed by Iranian missile

Satellite image taken January 9, 2020, shows the area where a Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed near Tehran, Iran.
Satellite image taken January 9, 2020, shows the area where a Ukraine International Airlines plane crashed near Tehran, Iran. © 2020 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

French and US aviation investigators on Friday said they will be involved in the investigation into a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed earlier this week at a time of soaring tensions between Washington and Tehran, killing all 176 people on board.

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France’s BEA air accident agency said it had been “notified of the event by Iran and we have designated an accredited representative to the safety investigation”.

The announcement came shortly after French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was ready to contribute its expertise if necessary to the crash probe.

On Thursday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing Canadian and other intelligence agencies, said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by an Iranian missile. The crash occurred hours after Iran targeted US forces in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general, Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike.

Iran has however denied Trudeau and other Western leader’s statements that one of its missiles hit the Ukrainian passenger jet. “What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's national aviation department, told a press conference in Tehran Friday.

“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world" in accordance with international standards, he added.

The Ukrainian airliner bound for Kiev crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport, killing all 176 passengers, including Iranian, Ukrainian, Canadian, Afghan and other nationals on board.

 

Iran invites Boeing, US investigators

Iran initially said it would not send the black boxes to the US, with which it has had no diplomatic relations for four decades. But following Trudeau’s disclosure of a missile strike likely downing the aircraft, Iran on Friday invited Boeing and US investigators to participate in the probe.

The state-run IRNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying Iran "has invited both Ukraine and the Boeing company to participate in the investigations”. The spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said it will also welcome experts from other countries whose citizens had died in the crash.

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has accepted the invitation from Iran to participate in its investigation in Tehran.

The NTSB said in a statement its Response Operations Center had received formal notification from Iran of Wednesday's crash. "The NTSB has designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash," the agency said.

A person briefed on the matter said it was unclear what, if anything, its representative would be able to do under US sanctions, Reuters reported. The US is allowed to take part under global rules since the Boeing 737-800NG jet was designed and built there.

Canada, which had dozens of passengers onboard, has also assigned an expert, while a team from Ukraine held discussions in Tehran on Thursday.

Tehran has said it will provide consular facilities and visas for accredited investigators, said Farhad Parvaresh, Iran's representative at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Candle-light vigils

Families and friends of the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash have been mourning the loss of their loved ones in Iran, Ukraine and Canada.

Ukraine on Thursday held a national day of mourning. In Canada, hundreds of mourners held a candle-light vigil Thursday night in Toronto to remember 176 people killed.

At the vigil, people in Toronto – which has a large Iranian community – expressed anger and sadness over the tragedy.

"Somebody has to answer us back why this happened. They were innocent people who died," said one of those at the ceremony, Yasmin Roshan, 43.

Roshan, who came with his nine-year-old daughter, said he lost two friends in the crash.

He said he blamed US President Donald Trump, who last Friday ordered the killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq, sending tensions between Washington and Tehran soaring.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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