UKRAINE — The crash of a Ukrainian jetliner that killed 176 people in Iran touched off mourning Wednesday in both Ukraine and Canada — where many of the victims were from or were headed — and raised a host of questions about what went wrong news wire Associated Press said.
But U.S. intelligence officials said there was no immediate evidence it was shot down.
The jetliner, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines, went down on the outskirts of Tehran during takeoff just hours after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at U.S. forces.
While the timing of the disaster led some aviation experts to wonder whether it was brought down by a missile, Iranian officials disputed any such suggestion and blamed mechanical trouble.
“The rumors about the plane are completely false and no military or political expert has confirmed it,” Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, was quoted by the semiofficial Fars news agency as saying. He said the rumors were “psychological warfare” by the government’s opponents.
In Washington, a Democrat who attended a classified briefing from Trump administration officials on Capitol Hill — including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and CIA Director Gina Haspel — said the briefers had no intelligence indicating the plane was shot down. The lawmaker spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. The crash just before dawn scattered flaming debris and passengers’ belongings across a wide stretch of farmland.
Many of the passengers were believed to be international students attending universities in Canada; they were making their way back to Toronto by way of Kyiv after visiting with family during the winter break.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 138 of the passengers were bound for Canada. The flight also included a family of four and newlyweds, too. The manifest listed several teenagers and children, some as young as 1 or 2.
The crash ranked among the worst losses of life for Canadians in an aviation disaster. The flag over Parliament in Ottawa was lowered to half-staff, and Trudeau vowed to get to the bottom of the disaster.
“Know that all Canadians are grieving with you,” he said, addressing the victims’ families.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy cut short a visit to Oman to return to Kyiv and said a team of Ukrainian experts would go to Tehran to help investigate the crash. (JGo/With reports from AP/CurrentPH.com)