- Flight PS752 bound for Kyiv crashes Wednesday morning near airport in Tehran, killing all aboard.
- Ukraine International Airline says 167 passengers and 9 crew members were on flight.
- Ukraine’s foreign minister says total on board includes 63 Canadians.
- Victims include residents of Alberta, B.C., Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia.
- Cause of the crash unclear. Officials cited possible mechanical failure then backtracked.
A Ukrainian International Airlines plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran’s main airport Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians.
The passenger jet, Flight PS752, turned farmland into fields of flaming debris.
Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko said 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians were on board — the Ukrainian nationals included two passengers and the nine crew. There were also 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British nationals, he said.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Canada was offering technical assistance to the impending investigation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “shocked and saddened,” and he and his wife Sophie extended their condolences to those who lost loved ones.
“Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered,” said Trudeau. “Today, I assure all Canadians that their safety and security is our top priority. We also join with the other countries who are mourning the loss of citizens.”
François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s minister of foreign affairs, said earlier he was in touch with the Ukrainian government.
“We will continue to keep Canadians informed as the situation evolves,” he said.
Watch as rescuers remove bodies from UIA Flight PS752 crash site:
The crash came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800 aircraft. Ukrainian officials initially concurred, but later backed away and declined to offer a cause.
Air Canada is the only Canadian carrier with flights in the region, and Transport Canada confirmed on Tuesday evening that the airline had altered some of its routes in light of those tensions, following a directive by the Federal Aviation Administration in the U.S for commercial airlines.
“Air Canada has not used Iranian airspace since mid-last year, these latest adjustments relate to Iraq airspace, which we will now also avoid,” the company said in a statement.
Ukraine airline officials said most of the passengers on Flight 752 were en route to the capital, Kyiv, transiting through to other destinations. Staff at Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv told The Associated Press that passengers on this flight are usually Iranian students returning to Ukraine after winter holidays.
Payman Paseyan, a member of the Iranian-Canadian community in Edmonton, says multiple people from the city, including many international students, were on the flight, and he knew many of the passengers.
There were also reports of victims who resided in Nova Scotia, Quebec and in Ontario.
“My heart is broken,” said Andriy Shevchenko, Ukrainian ambassador to Canada. “We will have to go through this terrible pain together with our Canadian brothers and sisters.”
Cause of crash not yet clear
It was the first fatal crash for Ukraine International Airlines, which has now indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran.
The airline released a list of passengers on the plane. Their ages range from 3 to 70.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky extended his condolences to the families of the victims. He said a team of experts would arrive in Iran later Wednesday to help in the probe.
“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” said Zelensky.
Hassan Razaeifar, Iranian head of air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate.
Qassem Biniaz, a spokesperson for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines. The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Under international rules, responsibility for investigating the crash lies with Iran, and Iranian state television said both of the plane’s black boxes had been found.
Din Mohammad Qassemi, who lives near the crash site, said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq, following the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, when he heard the crash.
“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told AP. “At first I thought [the Americans] have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 2,400 metres in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
Watch aviation expert speak on ‘unusual’ occurrence for a 737-800 model:
The disaster was the largest recent loss of life among Canadians since the Air India bombing in 1985, in which 268 Canadians died.
Boeing issued a statement on Twitter expressing condolences to the crew, passengers and families affected by the crash. Earlier, spokesperson Michael Friedman told the AP the company was “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information.”
Boeing built the aircraft that crashed Wednesday in 2016. It last underwent routine maintenance on Monday, Ukraine International Airlines said.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was monitoring developments, and “working with the State Department and other agencies to determine the best course of action.”
The NTSB could seek to participate as an accredited representative to the investigation under international law given that a U.S.-certified plane was involved.