The missiles that Iran fired into Iraq on Tuesday evening ultimately wounded no one on the ground, but that doesn’t mean the blink-and-you-missed-it exchange between the U.S. and Iran went by without casualties. It now seems that a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran airport was actually the victim of an anti-aircraft system.
On Thursday afternoon, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated that intelligence from multiple sources showed that Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752, which left Tehran on Tuesday night just minutes after Iran sent missiles toward two military bases in Iraq, was shot down by an Iranian missile. The Boeing 737-800 was en route to Kyiv. The majority of the 176 passengers and crew on board were Iranian, but there was a large contingent of Canadians onboard.
It seems likely that, in the wake of Iran’s firing of missiles at targets in Iraq, Ukraine activated systems designed to protect against a return volley of drones, missiles, or aircraft by the U.S. Whether the UIA flight was shot down by an automated system or by a human operator who mistook the flight for a American counterstrike is not known. While the FAA had issued a notice closing the area around Iran and Iraq to commercial flights, it appears that Iran never moved to shut down operations at Tehran airport.
UIA PS752 joins an unfortunately long list of passenger planes shot down by mistake in military situations. That includes Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down by Russian forces operating out of eastern Ukraine in 2014, and Iran Air Flight 655, which was shot down by a missile launched from the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988 when it was mistaken for an Iranian fighter plane.
Earlier on Thursday, Iranian officials refused to hand over the black box recovered from the flight to either Ukrainian officials or to manufacturer Boeing.