TEHRAN, Jan 8, 2020, SCMP. A Ukrainian airliner burst into flames shortly after take-off from Iran’s capital on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard in a crash that an initial report blamed on engine failure. Debris and smouldering engine parts of the Ukraine International Airlines flight were strewn across a field around 10km (six miles) from Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran as rescuers with face masks retrieved bodies of the victims, The South China Morning Post reported.
Ukraine’s embassy in Iran, citing preliminary information, said the Boeing 737 suffered engine failure and the crash was not caused by “terrorism”. It was the Kiev-based airline’s first fatal accident.
The plane was built in 2016 and checked only two days before the accident, said the privately-owned Ukraine International Airlines, the country’s biggest airline.
“The plane was manufactured in 2016, it was received by the airline directly from the (Boeing) factory. The plane underwent its last planned technical maintenance on January 6, 2020,” Ukraine International Airlines said in a statement.
The airline said on Wednesday it had “decided to suspend its flights to Tehran starting Wednesday” and until further notice.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky issued condolences after the crash. “My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” he said in a statement.
“The fire is so heavy that we cannot do any rescue … we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site,” Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency services, told Iranian state television.
Ukraine’s prime minister and Iranian state TV said 167 passengers and nine crew were on board. Iranian TV said 32 of those on board were foreigners.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said the victims included 82 from Iran, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons. Most passengers were in transit, the airline said.
Iranian media quoted a local aviation official as saying the pilot did not declare an emergency.
Iranian TV said the crash was due to unspecified technical problems. State broadcaster IRIB said on its website that one of the plane’s two black boxes – the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder – had been found.
The plane that crashed was a three-year-old Boeing 737-800NG en route to Kiev, air tracking service FlightRadar24 said.
“The last scheduled maintenance of the aircraft took place on 06 January, 2020,” the airline said.
A spokesman for the manufacturer said it was gathering more information.
The 737-800 is one of the world’s most-flown models with a good safety record and does not have the software feature implicated in crashes of the 737 MAX. Boeing grounded its 737 MAX fleet in March after two crashes that killed 346 people.
The 737-800’s twin engines are made by CFM International, a US-French venture co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran.
Modern aircraft are designed and certified to cope with an engine failure shortly after take-off and to fly for extended periods on one engine. However, an uncontained engine failure releasing shrapnel can cause damage to other aircraft systems.
Under international rules overseen by the United Nations, Iran is responsible for leading the crash investigation.
Ukraine would be involved and the United States would usually be accredited as the country where the jet was designed and built. France, where the engine maker CFM has half its activities, may also be involved.
With relations between Washington and Tehran mired in crisis, there was no immediate word on whether the US National Transportation Safety Board would be involved in the investigation.
The NTSB usually invites Boeing to give technical advice in such investigations.
Additional reporting by AFP