As It Happens

Canada will 'speak up' if Flight PS752 investigation isn't accurate, says TSB chair

Canadian investigators will make sure their voices are heard during the investigation into the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 disaster, says Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox. 

Kathy Fox says she is 'encouraged' for now by Iran's co-operation

Transportation Safety Board chair Kathy Fox says Canadian investigators will make sure their voices are heard during the investigation into the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 disaster. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
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Transcript

Canada will make sure its voice is heard during the investigation into the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight PS752 disaster, says Transportation Safety Board chair Kathy Fox. 

Iran says it mistakenly shot down the plane on Jan. 8, killing all 176 passengers onboard. Of those killed, 57 were Canadian citizens and 138 were bound for Canada. 

On Friday, deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland said she is confident Canada will get answers from Iran, but Iran has still not released the black box flight date — which is a key part to uncovering what happened. 

Fox spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the investigation. Here is part of their conversation. 

We heard Chrystia Freeland ... say she is "confident" —  that's the word she used — that we will get all the answers we need about this flight. After more than two weeks since the crash, what is that confidence based on? 

I can't speak for the minister.

What I can say is that our investigators, who spent six days in Tehran and another two days in Kyiv, describe their interactions with the Iranian Accident Investigation Bureau as co-operative and helpful. And they are getting access to more information than we would normally be entitled to under international protocols.

How unusual is it that you would not even have access at this point to the contents of those black boxes? 

The international protocols require the state leading the investigation to download the recorders without undue delay. Typically, that can happen within a week or two. We're now past the two-week mark and no final decision has been made.

So we certainly are hoping and urging the Iranians to make a decision quickly so that we can go to wherever the boxes will be, the recorders will be, and assist in the download and analysis.

An image released to Iranian state media on Tuesday by Iran's civil aviation authority shows two men investigating the crash site. (Civil Aviation Authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran)

What reasons are your sources in Iran ... giving for this delay? 

It's normal for the country that's leading the investigation to want to download those recorders in that country.

When that can't be done for whatever technical reason, they normally go to another state.

So I can't speak to what's happening in Iran in terms of what other factors may be at play here. But part of the issue is definitely a technology issue. The recorders were damaged and Iran may not have the equipment necessary. And some of that equipment is not transportable.

So they are assessing ... the feasibility of doing it in Ukraine.

So what are you hoping you can learn from that flight data that's on those voice recorders?

First of all … the cockpit voice recorder, which records the conversations between the pilots as well as any other oral audible sounds that can be heard, will at least tell us whether the crew had any inkling, any advance inkling, of what was about to happen.

And then the flight data recorders will be able to tell us what the aircraft was doing, its speed, its altitude, its flight path before the missiles went off and then after.

So that will give us a sequence of events in terms of what was happening in and around the airplane, but that data then has to be corroborated with the physical evidence from the wreckage, and that will certainly tell a big part of the story. But it's not the only part of the story.

A woman cries as she lights a candle at the North York Civic Centre in Toronto, where a vigil was held to mourn those killed on Flight PS752. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Can the black boxes show whether or not this really was an accident? 

No, I think that in terms of whether the missiles were launched intentionally or accidentally, that requires a line of inquiry with those most directly involved to find out: Was there a breakdown in command and control, communication, co-ordination? Were there equipment limitations? Were operators feeling threatened in some way by something?

That line of inquiry needs to be pursued to validate whether it was an accidental shoot-down or intentional.

You're not ruling out that it may have been intentional?

Investigators put everything on the table when we start an investigation. Nothing is ruled out until it can be confirmed by the evidence.

Another key piece of evidence is the actual site of the crash, which Iran cleaned up pretty quickly. It was bulldozed. What [were] your investigators ... able to see? What were they able to learn from the actual site? 

I can't tell you what they learned because a lot of the information that they're going to bring back with them, we're not going to be able to release, because one of the limitations of the international protocols is that we cannot share factual information unless it's already been shared by the lead investigation agency or unless we've been given permission to do so. 

But we do know that not long after the accident occurred, because the debris field was so large and in such cases it can be difficult to protect — and even though the best practice is to protect it, grid it off, document where all the pieces were found — that there was an intent … to transport the wreckage to a secure site so that it wouldn't be contaminated or lost.

Our investigators had the opportunity to visit both the accident site as well as to review and examine the wreckage in a secure location to which [it] has been transported.

Rescue teams work amidst debris after the Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers was shot down. (AFP via Getty Images)

Iran is not known for its transparency … so what limitations does that give you as being able to ... make this known, what happened? 

Again, the Iranians have the right under ICAO Annex 13, which is the international protocol, to conduct, to lead the investigation with the involvement of a number of other countries who have a role. 

But I also want to say that if we're not able to, or if we feel that the investigation is not uncovering some of the issues, or that the information isn't complete or accurate, we will speak up and say so.

How frustrated are you with this investigation?

I think it's early days. I think we remain encouraged by the information that's been shared to date. 

The question is going to be: How will that continue for the future? Will we be given the higher status that we've been advocating for? And I can't answer that right now.


Written by Sarah Jackson. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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