Most of the passengers on a doomed Ukrainian flight from Tehran to Kyiv that crashed on the outskirts of the Iranian capital shortly after takeoff early Wednesday morning, killing all 176 people on board, were heading to Canada, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Millions of Canadians were shocked and saddened by the news of the fatal air crash, Trudeau told reporters at a press conference in Ottawa.
“At least 63 Canadians were on board and a total of 138 passengers on that flight were connecting to Canada,” Trudeau said, “all people who won’t be coming home to their parents, their friends, their colleagues, or their family.”
Trudeau offered his condolences to the families of the victims for the “heartbreaking tragedy.”
“While no words will erase your pain, I want you to know that an entire country is with you,” Trudeau said. “We share your grief.”
‘Canadians have questions’
Flanked by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance and other officials, Trudeau said the federal government will spare no effort to get to the bottom of what many describe as one of the deadliest disasters involving Canadian citizens in decades.
“Canadians have questions and they deserve answers,” Trudeau said.
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe will be speaking with his Iranian counterpart Thursday to “convey the need for a thorough investigation into this fatal crash,” Trudeau said.
Officials at Global Affairs Canada are also preparing a consular team to dispatch to Iran, Trudeau said.
Canada to closely monitor the investigation
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) announced earlier in the day that it has appointed an expert who will receive and review factual information released by Iran and monitor the progress of the investigation.
“The TSB remains available to provide any technical assistance requested by Iranian and Ukrainian accident investigation bodies,” the agency said Wednesday.
However, it’s unclear whether Ottawa, which severed diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2012, plans to send its expert to Iran, as it is entitled to under international rules.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 carrying 167 passengers from several countries and nine crew members crashed barely two minutes after takeoff.
The crash of the 3½-year-old Boeing 737-800, which came just hours after Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases housing American and allied troops, killed everyone on board, scattering flaming debris and passengers’ belongings across farmland on the outskirts of Tehran.
‘Something very unusual happened’
Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, along with 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British citizens.
Champagne has been in touch with the government of Ukraine, and is speaking to relevant authorities and to international partners, Trudeau said.
“The situation remains extremely fluid,” Champagne said in a statement, adding that the number of Canadian victims may change as more dual nationals are identified.
Garneau, a former Canadian astronaut, said preliminary analysis of satellite data suggest the aircraft took off normally, but officials lost contact with the flight almost immediately after.
That suggests “something very unusual happened,” he said.
However, both Garneau and Trudeau said it would be inappropriate to speculate about the causes of the crash.
‘Our priority is to establish the truth’
Trudeau said earlier in the day he spoke with President Emmanuel Macron of France, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to discuss the matter.
“They all expressed their deepest sympathies to the families of all Canadians and offered help and support,” Trudeau said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy cut short a visit to Oman to return to Kyiv and said a team of Ukrainian experts would fly to Tehran to help investigate the crash.
Zelenskiy also instructed Ukraine’s prosecutor general to initiate criminal investigation of the plane crash in Tehran.
“Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe,” Zelenskiy said in a statement.
Zelenskiey called for the creation of an investigation commission comprised of representatives of Ukraine’s security agencies and agencies responsible for civil aviation.
“We have to check all the possible versions,” Zelenskiy said in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will continue to follow this incident closely and stands prepared to offer Ukraine all possible assistance.
“The United States calls for complete cooperation with any investigation into the cause of the crash,” Pompeo said in a statement.
Transport Canada Civil Aviation officials are in communication with safety and security partners including the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Public Safety Canada and the International Civil Aviation Organization, Frédérica Dupuis, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, told Radio Canada International.
“The department is also offering technical assistance and expertise to Ukraine officials in the areas of aircraft design (e.g. certification engineers and test pilots), maintenance (e.g. engineers and aircraft maintenance engineers) and flight operations (e.g. pilots) to assist in its investigation,” she said in an emailed statement.
Black boxes found
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It never made it above 8,000 feet, crashing just minutes after takeoff, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire erupted in one of its engines and the pilot lost control of the plane, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of the 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.
Ukraine International Airlines President Yevhen Dykhne, said the aircraft “was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew.” In a statement, the airline went further, saying: “Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”
Authorities said they found the plane’s so-called black boxes, which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.
“We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed,” Boeing said in a statement.
Under rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (ICAO), also known as Chicago Convention, Iran as the country where the incident occurred is “responsible for the conduct of the investigation.”
In addition, Ukraine, which operated the aircraft, and the U.S., which designed and manufactured it, are also entitled to appoint an accredited representative to take part in an investigation.
Canada, as a state, which has a “special interest” in the accident by virtue of the number of its citizens involved in or impacted by it, is also entitled to appoint an expert to the accident investigation, according to the convention.
These special interest state experts are entitled to visit the scene of the accident; have access to the factual information released by the investigating authorities; and receive a copy of the accident investigation final report.
However, these so-called Annex 13 investigations do not apportion blame or liability, their sole purpose is to generate safety data and information to aid with the prevention of future and similar accidents or incidents.
With files from The Associated Press and Reuters