In the last couple of days, the Ukrainian media has leaked a secret conversation between an Iranian air traffic controller and pilot. The pilot claims he saw a series of lights, similar to a missile, then an explosion. As a result of this being leaked to the public, Iran has today announced it will stop sharing crash data with Ukraine.
On the 8th January 2020, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by a ground-to-air missile fired by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, killing all 176 onboard. It happened at a time of high tension between the US and Iran, after the assassination of leading Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by US forces.
After the plane was shot down, Iran initially denied wrongdoing. But, in an unexpected move, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani admitted to the tragedy, calling it an “unforgivable mistake”. Since then it has been sharing crash data with other nations and organizations, in a bid to accelerate the investigation into the crash.
The director of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, Hassan Rezaifar, has responded to the leaked information with the following statement, as carried by Reuters:
“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. This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them.”
What’s in the recording?
The recording is of a communication between a pilot landing just after the Ukrainian jetliner took off, and the control tower in Tehran. The pilot says he saw a series of lights, similar to a missile. He then reiterates this point by saying:
“It is the light of a missile”.
The control tower at Tehran airport then tries several times to make contact with the Ukrainian passenger jet, albeit unsuccessfully.
President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, claims this new evidence proves that Iran knew passenger jet PS752 was brought down by a missile from the very beginning.
What does this mean for the investigation?
After admitting to the tragic error, Iran was going to fully co-operate with the investigation, saying they would send the black box recorders to Kiev for decoding. However, they then backtracked on this decision, opting for a “joint investigation”. Transportation Minister Mohammad Eslami told the Tehran Times:
“If the examination team cannot decipher the data, another decision will be made.”
This means the data would have remained in Iran, under Ukrainian and Iranian investigation, unless there were issues deciphering the data there.
However, co-operation between Ukraine and Iran has now effectively ceased, so it’s unclear exactly what will happen from here. Ukraine was supposed to be taking a leading role in the investigation.
What’s the situation inside Iran?
Iran not sharing crucial crash data could hinder the reliability of the investigation at a time when trust is already low. It will anger those who want those responsible to be held to account. Anger from within Tehran towards the government even occurred after the incident.
The person who filmed the plane being shot down was arrested on charges related to national security a few days after the incident.
Iran has always guarded state interests with an iron fist. We’ll see in the coming weeks if they maintain their decision, or if they backtrack later and allow Ukraine to resume their investigation.