Canada will work with its international partners to ensure that a Ukrainian passenger plane crash in Iran that claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians, is “thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) announced 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 en route to Kyiv crashed near Iran’s capital, shortly after takeoff on Wednesday.
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.
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.
Working with international partners
Trudeau said he was “shocked and saddened” by the reports of the plane crash.
“On behalf of the Government of Canada, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to those who have lost family, friends, and loved ones in this tragedy,” Trudeau said in a statement.
“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.”
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe 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.
Canada is committed to working closely with international partners regarding any possible investigation, Champagne added.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau tweeted that Canada is offering technical assistance to the upcoming investigation.
‘Our priority is to establish the truth’
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 a criminal investigation of the crash.
“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 the statement.
U.S. calls for ‘complete cooperation’
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.
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.”
Black boxes found
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.
The 737-800 is one of the world’s most-flown models with a good safety record and does not have the software feature implicated in crashes of the 737 MAX. Boeing grounded its 737 MAX fleet in March after two crashes that killed 346 people.
Modern aircraft are designed and certified to cope with an engine failure shortly after take-off and to fly for extended periods on one engine. But an uncontained engine failure releasing shrapnel can cause damage to other aircraft systems.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was monitoring developments surrounding the crash.
Who can take part in the investigation?
Under rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (ICAO), also known as the 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