TEHRAN (Dispatches) — A misaligned missile battery, miscommunication between troops and their commanders and a decision to fire without authorization all led to the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in January, killing all 176 people on board, a new report says.
The report released late Saturday by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization comes months after the Jan. 8 crash near Tehran. It comes as the aircraft’s black box flight recorder is due to be sent to Paris, where international investigators will examine it.
The shootdown happened the same night Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting U.S. bases in Iraq, its response to the American assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
At the time, Iranian troops were bracing for a U.S. counterstrike and appear to have mistaken the plane for a missile.
The civil aviation report detailed a series of moments where the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 could have been avoided.
The report said the surface-to-air missile battery that targeted the Boeing 737-800 had been relocated and was not properly reoriented.
"A failure occurred due to a human error in following the procedure” for aligning the radar, causing a "107-degree error” in the system, the report said.
This error "initiated a hazard chain” that saw further errors committed in the minutes before the plane was shot down, said the CAO document, presented as a "factual report” and not as the final report on the accident investigation.
Flight 752, a Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, was struck by two missiles and crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s main airport on January 8.
The CAO said that, despite the erroneous information available to the radar system operator on the aircraft’s trajectory, he could have identified his target as an airliner, but instead there was a "wrong identification”.
The report also noted that the first of the two missiles launched at the aircraft was fired by a defense unit operator who had acted "without receiving any response from the Coordination Center” on which he depended.
The second missile was fired 30 seconds later, "by observing the continuity of trajectory of the detected target,” the report added.
Tehran’s air defenses had been on high alert at the time the jet was shot down in case the U.S. initiated new aggression following Iranian strikes hours earlier on American troops stationed in Iraq.
The report notes that the Ukrainian flight had done nothing out of the ordinary up until the missile launch, with its transponder and other data being broadcast.
"At the time of firing the first missile, the aircraft was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory,” the report said.
The plane had just taken off from Imam Khomeini International Airport when the first missile exploded, possibly damaging its radio equipment, the report said. The second missile likely directly struck the aircraft, as videos that night show the plane exploding into a ball of fire before crashing into a playground and farmland on the outskirts of Tehran.
The report put the blame entirely on the crew of the missile battery. Already, six people believed to be involved in the incident have been arrested, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili reportedly said in June. He said at the time three had been released on bail while the other three remained held.
Iran is to send the black box to France on July 20, where Ukrainian and French experts are expected to examine it, Iran’s IRNA news agency recently reported. Iranian officials did not have the equipment on hand to read data from the box.
The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, mostly Iranians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.