A Ukraine International Airlines jetliner reportedly carrying 176 passengers and crew has crashed near Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport, according to Iran state television, which said all those aboard are dead. Iranian officials said they believe one of the plane’s engines caught fire.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, wrote in a tweet that the victims included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians (including the 9 crew members), 10 passengers from Switzerland, four Afghans, three Germans and three from the United Kingdom.
Airline officials said most of the passengers were likely en route to make connecting flights in Kyiv, according to The Associated Press.
Flightradar24, a website that tracks commercial aviation in real time, said flight 752, a Boeing 737-800, “crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran.
Exactly what happened to the airplane is not yet clear. Iranian officials quickly attributed the crash to a mechanical issue.
Later, Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry quoted by the state-run IRNA news agency, said one of the engines apparently caught fire and a witness on the ground was quoted by the AP as saying he heard “a massive explosion.” Another witness quoted by the news agency said he believed the pilot had steered the plane toward a soccer field and away from a residential area.
Reza Jafarzadeh, a ministry spokesman, said a team of investigators had been dispatched to the site on the southwestern outskirts of Tehran.
An Iranian emergency official told state TV that all those aboard the plane were killed in the crash and that rescuers were recovering remains.
The Associated Press reports that where the jetliner went down, its journalists saw a field littered with debris and that bodies were strewn among pieces of the plane. Television footage showed burning plane parts and rescue workers wearing face masks as they retrieved bodies.
“The fire is so heavy that we cannot (do) any rescue… we have 22 ambulances, four bus ambulances and a helicopter at the site,” Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency services, told Iran state television, according to Reuters.
Initially, Iran state television reported 180 passengers and crew were aboard the airplane, but later said the figure was 170.
In a statement hours after the first reports, Ukraine Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk clarified that the plane was carrying 167 passengers and 9 crew members. He confirmed that all aboard the plane had been killed and that authorities were trying to clarify the circumstances of the crash.
“My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of all passengers and crew,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said, according to Reuters.
The news agency quoted Zelenskiy as saying Ukraine’s consul in Iran was at the crash site. Zelenskiy himself was on a visit to Oman but returning to the capital due to the crash, his office said in a statement.
The crash came just hours after Iran launched missiles into Iraq to retaliate against a U.S. drone strike last week that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, in Baghdad.
In addition, the crash occurred less than an hour after the Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. civil aviation “from operating in the airspace over Iraq, Iran, and the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.”
According to aviation tracking sites, the plane is a 737-800, a common single-aisle twin-engine airliner that is in service around the world. The plane that crashed was manufactured about 3 1/2 years ago and is an earlier generation than the troubled MAX aircraft that has been grounded globally after two deadly crashes in 2018 and last year.
Boeing 737-800s have been involved in other fatal accidents over the years, including in 2016, when a FlyDubai 737-800 crashed in Russia, killing 62 people. In 2010, an Air India 737-800 crashed in southern India, killing 150 passengers and crew.