U.S. and allied Western intelligence services say they have persuasive evidence from satellites and intercepted communications that Iran shot down a Ukrainian International Airline flight Wednesday morning, likely by mistake, killing all 176 people onboard. Iran denies any responsibility. The airliner crashed just minutes after taking off from Tehran's airport en route to Kyiv and hours after Iran fired missiles toward U.S. forces in Iraq in retaliation for America's targeted killing of Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani.
Using video from Tehran and information from intelligence officials, U.S. new media have plausibly pieced together what happened to Ukrainian International Airline Flight 752. The plane's 167 passengers and nine crew "most likely faced horrifying final moments, starting with an explosion as the missiles detonated just outside it, sending shrapnel and debris spiraling through the fuselage," The New York Times reports. "The plane turned back toward the airport, then began its uncontrolled descent toward the ground." CBS Evening News visually recreated the incident.
"We know that plane was sending out a signal identifying itself as a commercial airliner," CBS News' Kris Van Cleave reported. "It was flying away from the conflict zone. And that radar operator that lit up the plane should have been able to see that it originated from the airport." The Russian-made surface-to-air system is operated by three to four people "tracking nearby aircraft by radar," the Times explains. "But determining friendly civilian aircraft takes skill, and mistakes are possible, particularly in charged situations."
Sixty-three passengers were Canadian but most were Iranian, suggesting Tehran didn't down the passenger jet on purpose. "The Iranian military could have positioned the system, which is designed to operate at medium to low altitudes and intercept both aircraft and guided weapons, to defend the airport if officials believed the United States military was intending to counterattack after Iran's ballistic missile strikes," the Times speculated. That's unlikely to comfort those who love and mourn the victims.