Rescue teams amid the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, Iran, early on January 8 2020. Picture: ISNA/AFP/BORNA GHASSEMI
Rescue teams amid the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran, Iran, early on January 8 2020. Picture: ISNA/AFP/BORNA GHASSEMI

Tehran/Washington — A Boeing 737-800 passenger jet bound for Ukraine has crashed shortly after take-off in Iran, killing everyone on board.

Ukraine International Airlines said 167 passengers and nine crew members were aboard Flight 752, which crashed at 6.18am local time in Sabashahr near Tehran. Ukrainians, Iranians and Canadians were among those aboard, it said.

The head of Tehran’s Disaster Mitigation and Management Organisation, Mansour Darajati, said early assessments suggest the crash was caused by a technical issue, IRNA reported. Another state-run outlet quoted an official from the Iran Civil Aviation Organisation as saying the airline didn’t declare an emergency.

Television footage showed recovery efforts at the crash sight, where metal and other debris was spread over a charred field. An official from the Ukrainian foreign ministry said the main priority would be identifying the people who died in the crash. The airline said it was closely co-operating with aviation authorities.

The tragedy comes at a tense time for both Iran and Boeing.

Iran has fired more than a dozen missiles at US-Iraqi airbases in retaliation to the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani last week. Just before Wednesday’s crash, US aviation regulators issued new restrictions barring civilian flights over Iraq and Iran. Meanwhile, Boeing is still reeling from the crises following two disasters involving its best-selling 737 MAX jets, a successor to the plane that crashed and which has been grounded globally since March.

US stock futures slid and the yen rose, though the moves faded after reports that the crash was due to a technical issue.

Under international law, Iran would lead any investigation since the crash occurred on its soil. Few nations have the expertise and technical facilities to conduct a full accident probe, however, so the US, France or other countries often provide assistance. The plane’s crash-proof recorders, for example, will have to be downloaded in a specialised lab and only a handful exist around the world.

International rules for air crash investigations also allow the country that manufactured the plane to participate in an investigation. That arrangement allows planemakers to provide their technical expertise. But the current political turmoil between Iran and the US is likely to complicate the involvement of the US’s National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Boeing.

The website Flightradar24 showed that the 737-800 jet left Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport for Ukraine’s Boryspil International Airport early Wednesday morning local time.

“We are aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information,” Boeing spokesperson Gordon Johndroe said in an e-mail.

The jet lifted off and climbed to about 2,408m in altitude and was travelling at about 483km/hr when it stopped transmitting its position and disappeared, according to data supplied by Flightradar24. Other aircraft operating out of Tehran were tracked normally, said Flightradar24 spokesperson Ian Petchenik.

A Ukraine International employee picking up the general line declined to comment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky cut a trip to Oman short to go to Kiev, his office said.

Plane Finder, which tracks flights worldwide online, listed the two-engine aircraft that crashed as being three years old, saying it was delivered in July 2016.

Boeing is still struggling with the fallout from crashes in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019. Those disasters, which killed nearly 350 people, involved the US manufacturer’s 737 MAX jet, which has been grounded globally for 10 months. The 737-800 and 737 MAX are both variants of Boeing’s 737 narrow-body planes but the 737-800 hasn’t been grounded.

Boeing is still developing a fix for the flaws discovered in a flight-control system new to the 737 MAX model. The 737-800 that is reported to have crashed near Tehran on Wednesday didn’t have that system.

Bloomberg