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Iran no longer sharing evidence on Ukraine airliner crash with Kiev after audio leak

A file photo taken on January 11, 2020 of a piece of the Ukraine Airlines plane that crashed in Iran, killing 176 people.
A file photo taken on January 11, 2020 of a piece of the Ukraine Airlines plane that crashed in Iran, killing 176 people. © Akbar Tavakoli, RINA, AFP (archives)
4 min

Iran is no longer sharing evidence from the investigation into the Ukraine airliner crash that killed 176 people with Kiev after audio from the investigation was leaked by Ukrainian media, the director in charge of accident investigations at Iran's Civil Aviation Organization was quoted as saying on Monday.

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The audio file was part of the evidence given to Ukrainian experts as part of the joint investigative team's examination of the crash.

"The technical investigation team of the Ukrainian airline crash, in a strange move, published the secret audio file of the communications of a pilot of a plane that was flying at the same time as the Ukrainian plane," Iran's Hassan Rezaifar said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.

"This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them."

‘Dear engineer, it was an explosion’

The announcement followed a leaked recording of an exchange between an Iranian air-traffic controller and an Iranian pilot purporting to show that authorities immediately knew a missile had downed a Ukrainian jetliner after takeoff from Tehran, despite days of denials by the Islamic Republic.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the recording's authenticity in a report aired by a Ukrainian television channel on Sunday night.

In Tehran on Monday, Rezaifar acknowledged the recording was legitimate and said that it was handed over to Ukrainian officials.

After the January 8 air disaster, Iran’s civilian government maintained for days that it didn't know the country’s Revolutionary Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had shot down the aircraft. The downing of the jetliner came just hours after the Revolutionary Guard launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US forces in retaliation for an earlier US drone strike that killed the Guard's top general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

A transcript of the recording, published by the Ukrainian 1+1 TV channel, contains a conversation in Farsi between an air-traffic controller and a pilot reportedly flying a Fokker 100 jet for Iran’s Aseman Airlines from Iran’s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran.

“A series of lights like...yes, it is missile, is there something?” the pilot calls out to the controller.

“No, how many miles? Where?” the controller asks.

The pilot responds that he saw the light near the city of Payam, near where the Guard’s Tor M-1 anti-aircraft missile was launched. The controller says nothing has been reported to them, but the pilot remains insistent.

“It is the light of missile,” the pilot says.

“Don’t you see anything anymore?” the controller asks.

“Dear engineer, it was an explosion. We saw a very big light there, I don’t really know what it was,” the pilot responds.

The controller then tries to contact the Ukrainian jetliner, but unsuccessfully.

‘The Iranian side knew’

Publicly accessible flight-tracking radar information suggests the Aseman Airlines aircraft, flight No. 3768, was close enough to Tehran to see the blast.

Iranian civil aviation authorities for days insisted it wasn’t a missile that brought down the Ukrainian plane, even after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US officials began saying they believed it had been shot down.

Iranian officials should have immediately had access to the air-traffic control recordings and Zelensky told 1+1 that “the recording, indeed, shows that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was shot down by a missile, they were aware of this at the moment of the shooting”.

Ukraine's president repeated his demands to decode the plane's flight recorders in Kiev - something Iranian officials had promised last month but later backtracked on. On Monday, Ukrainian investigators were to travel to Tehran to participate in the decoding effort, but Zelensky insisted on bringing the so-called “black boxes” back to Kiev.

“It is very important for us," he said.

Iranian authorities, however, have condemned the publication of the recording as “unprofessional”, saying it was part of a confidential report.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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