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The Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard, was reportedly on fire and attempting to return to the airport when it went down.
An initial Iranian investigative report on Thursday said the plane tried to get back to Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran shortly after take-off but that it never radioed for help. Ukraine has not ruled out a missile strike, which Iran has denied is a possibility.
The timing of the crash was strange: the Boeing 737 went down on Tuesday just a few hours after Iran fired missiles at Iraqi bases that housed U.S. military personnel, as retaliation for the assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.
Investigators from Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization haven’t given an official explanation for the crash, but have blamed it on a technical malfunction with the plane, the Associated Press reported. The findings from Iran have been sent to Ukraine and the U.S., because Boeing in headquartered in the States.
"The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash," said Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation chief Ali Abedzadeh, according to the BBC.
Abedzadeh said witnesses saw the plane on fire before the crash, and it created a massive explosion when it hit the ground. The aircraft likely had a lot of fuel on board for the approximately 4-hour, nearly 2,000-mile flight to Kyiv, Ukraine.
The report noted that both the plane’s black boxes from were recovered, but had been damaged and lost some memory during the crash. And with increased tensions between Iran and the U.S., Iranian officials weren’t too keen on cooperating with American companies.
"We will not give the black box to the manufacturer and the Americans," Abedzadeh said. "This accident will be investigated by Iran's aviation organization but the Ukrainians can also be present."
While Iran has ruled out a missile strike, Ukrainian officials weren’t ready to do the same. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council, said a missile strike was among the country’s working theories.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main [theories], as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash,” Danilov said, according to the AP, without elaborating on what information he was referring to.
Ukraine International Airlines officials said in a press conference said the plane had been in good condition and that the staff was well-trained.
“Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal,” said Ihor Sosnovsky, vice president of operations for the airline, according to TIME.
Cover: A rescue worker searches the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)