Canadian officials say Iran failed to prove Flight 752 was shot down in error
Iranian report released yesterday concludes plane was mistaken for 'hostile target'
Canadian safety officials said today that Iran's investigation of the destruction of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 failed to support its claim that the passenger jet was shot down due to human error.
In its final report released yesterday, Iran's civil aviation authority concluded the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane was shot down accidentally in January 2020 after being "misidentified" by an air defence unit as a "hostile target."
Kathy Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said the report offers no detailed explanation or evidence regarding the underlying factors that led the air defence unit to launch two surface-to-air-missiles at the plane shortly after it took off from Tehran's main airport in the early hours of Jan. 8.
"To date, Iran has provided no evidence to support this scenario, but it is a plausible explanation of what happened," Fox told a press conference today.
"In short, the report says what happened but it doesn't answer the why."
The report, conducted by Iran's Aircraft Accident Investigation Board, supports the Iranian government's claim that it was human error and not a deliberate military attack that led to Flight PS752's destruction.
Iran denied shooting down the aircraft for three days after the crash, but eventually admitted that a unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had "mistakenly" shot down the jet.
The disaster happened just hours after the Iranian military launched a missile attack on Iraqi bases where U.S. forces were stationed in response to the assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani by a U.S. drone strike five days earlier.
All 176 passengers and crew members — including 138 people with ties to Canada — died in the crash.
Key questions unanswered, TSB chair says
Fox said Iran's report left unanswered some critical questions about the sequence of events that led the air operator to mistake the plane for a threat and then fire at it without authorization from higher authorities.
Fox said the report also doesn't sufficiently explain why Iran kept its airspace open at a time of heightened military tensions with the U.S., nor why commercial aircraft were allowed to take off hours after Iran had launched missiles into neighbouring Iraq.
"We believe that the final report issued by Iran yesterday is incomplete. It raises more questions than it answers. It does provide some basic information about the factors that led to [the] military shoot down of PS752 but it falls short of answering many of the detailed questions of the underlying factors that caused that," said Fox.
WATCH: Iran's report into downing of Flight PS752 'incomplete,' TSB says:
Iranian officials leading the investigation said they couldn't probe the military's actions under international investigation rules. Fox said the TSB rejects that claim.
"This investigation needed to look into the military activities that led to their stated cause — which was a misalignment, a misidentification, a miscommunication, a breakdown in procedures — to support that scenario, which they haven't done," Fox said.
"It would be very challenging for any state to investigate its own military activities in such a case, but I think it's important for public confidence in the findings of the report to delve into those areas so that there can be confidence that if it was, in fact, an error, it won't happen again."
Fox's comments mark a departure from traditional practice — the TSB normally doesn't comment publicly on the results of a report into an incident that took place in another country. Under international civil aviation rules, the country where the incident took place is in charge of the investigation.
But the TSB chair said she chose to conduct an independent assessment of Iran's report because of the "unprecedented situation" — a state investigating a disaster in which its own military was implicated.
Victims' families, federal government criticize Iranian report
The federal government rejected the Iranian report's findings soon after its release, arguing that the report was "incomplete" and devoid of "hard facts or evidence."
An association that represents family members of victims who died in the crash also criticized the report, saying it was riddled with "inconsistencies" and "fabrications."
Hamed Esmaeilion, whose wife and daughter both died on board Flight PS752, is a spokesperson for the group. He said he is "disappointed" with the "conservative approach" taken by the TSB and the federal government in the 15 months since the missile attack.
"We needed to hear more about what really happened on January 8. We needed to hear that this report is not plausible, but we heard otherwise," Esmaeilion said in an emotional interview on CBC News Network. "The families are very disappointed."
WATCH: Man who lost family when Iran shot down plane angry with Iran, Canada
The victims' family members have been calling for months for Canada to take stronger action against Iran. Among other things, they want Canada to push the International Civil Aviation Organization to publicly condemn Iran, to take Iran to the International Court of Justice and to place sanctions on Iranian officials who were involved.
"All of [these demands] were denied or not approved and that is why we are here. After 15 months, no answers, no justice," Esmaeilion said.
"We deserve to know the truth. And right now I want to know what happened to my wife and my daughter. This is my right. And none of these press conferences, none of these politicians answer me. I have to beg. I have to ask all of them, 'Do something for us.'"
Canada has assembled its own team, led by a former CSIS director, to conduct its own forensic examination of the sequence of events that led to the crash. The government says that team's report will be released in the near future.
In the meantime, said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, the government will work with allies on a response.
"We believe the most effective way to get to the bottom of this, to the truth, is through international institutions," Alghabra said in an interview on CBC's Power & Politics yesterday.
WATCH: Transport minister responds to the release of Iran's final report into Flight PS752 disaster
The Prime Minister's Office said it has taken the situation "very seriously since the tragic event occurred" and pointed CBC News to a comment Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made earlier in the year.
"As a country, we remember all those we lost, and we mourn with their families and friends," said Trudeau on the one-year anniversary of the event. "The victims of PS752 … will never be forgotten."
You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.
With files from The Canadian Press