TEHERAN • Iran yesterday denied Western allegations that one of its own missiles downed a Ukrainian jetliner that crashed outside Teheran, putting it at odds with Canada, Britain and Australia, which say the claim is backed by intelligence.
It also called on the United States and Canada to share any information they have on the crash, which killed all 176 people on board.
Western leaders said the plane appeared to have been unintentionally hit by a surface-to-air missile just hours after Iran launched nearly two dozen ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of its top general in an American air strike last week.
"What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane," Mr Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran's national aviation department, told a press conference. "If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world" in accordance with international standards, he added.
Teheran earlier said the allegations were false, describing them as "psychological warfare".
The jet's flight data and cockpit voice recorders were to be examined in Teheran yesterday, Mr Abedzadeh said, adding that claims about what happened should be considered speculation until all information is retrieved.
Mr Abedzadeh also said the missile theory could not be "scientifically correct" because it was not possible for an airliner to be hit and "continue flying for 60 to 70 seconds".
Mr Hassan Rezaeifar, head of the Iranian investigation team, said recovering data from the black box flight recorders could take more than a month and that the entire probe could stretch into next year.
He also said Iran may request help from international experts if it is not able to extract the flight recordings.
If the US or Canada were to present incontrovertible evidence that the plane was shot down by Iran, even if unintentionally, it could have a dramatic impact on public opinion in Iran. The Iranian public had rallied around the leadership after the killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani on Friday last week.
Iran's state-run Irna news agency has quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Teheran has invited both Ukraine and Boeing to participate in the investigations.
Iran had initially said it would not let Boeing take part in the probe, going against prevailing international norms on crash investigations. The US, Canada and France have also agreed to join the probe, after Ukraine sent experts to the scene of the tragedy, the state-run news agency reported.
A preliminary Iranian investigative report released on Thursday said the plane's pilots never made a radio call for help and that the burning aircraft was trying to turn back for the airport when it went down.
The Iranian report suggested that a sudden emergency struck the Boeing 737, operated by Ukraine International Airlines, just minutes after it took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport early on Wednesday.
Those findings are not inconsistent with the effect of a surface-to-air missile. Such missiles are designed to explode near aircraft, shredding them with shrapnel. There is no need to score a direct hit, and a stricken plane may look like it is turning back when in fact it is disintegrating.
Mr Abedzadeh had earlier said that by law there is "full coordination" between the country's air defences and the civil aviation system.
However, raising concern that the investigation might be compromised, a crew of US broadcaster CBS found the impact site unguarded and unsecured, with virtually all pieces of the plane cleared away and scavengers picking the location clean of remaining debris.
BLOOMBERG, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Planes brought down by missiles
PARIS • Over the past four decades, there have been incidents where planes were hit by missiles.
UKRAINE, JULY 17, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam. All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 were killed, including 193 Dutch nationals. Kiev authorities and separatist pro-Russian rebels, who were battling for control of eastern Ukraine, accused each other of firing the missile that downed the flight.
SOMALIA, MARCH 23, 2007
An Ilyushin II-76 cargo aircraft belonging to a Belarusian airline was shot down by a rocket shortly after take-off from Somalia's capital Mogadishu, killing 11 people. It was transporting Belarusian engineers and technicians who had travelled to the country to repair another plane hit by a missile two weeks earlier.
BLACK SEA, OCT 4, 2001
Seventy-eight people, mostly Israelis, were killed when their Russian Sibir Tupolev-154, flying from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk, exploded in mid-flight over the Black Sea. Kiev admitted that the disaster was due to the accidental firing of a Ukrainian missile.
PERSIAN GULF, JULY 3, 1988
An Airbus A-300 belonging to Iran Air, flying from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, was shot down in Iran's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf shortly after take-off by two missiles fired from a US frigate in the Strait of Hormuz. It mistook the plane for a fighter aircraft. The 290 passengers were killed. The United States paid Iran US$101.8 million in compensation.
SAKHALIN, SEPT 1, 1983
A South Korean Boeing 747 belonging to Korean Air was shot down by Soviet fighter jets over the island of Sakhalin, after veering off course. Some 269 people on board were killed.
SINAI DESSERT, FEB 21, 1973
A Libyan Arab Airlines Boeing 727 flying from Tripoli to Cairo was shot down by Israeli fighter jets over the Sinai dessert. All but four of the 112 people on board were killed. The Israeli air force intervened after the Boeing flew over military facilities in the Sinai, then occupied by Israel. The authorities said fighters opened fire when the plane refused to land.