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By Aresu Eqbali in Tehran, Rory Jones in Dubai and Georgi Kantchev in Moscow
A Ukraine International Airlines jetliner crashed shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 passengers and crew members on board, an incident that comes amid military clashes between the U.S. and Iran.
The Boeing Co. 737-800 single-aisle jet crashed after departing the Iranian capital's Imam Khomeini International Airport en route to Kyiv, Ukraine, with photos of the crash site showing thousands of pieces of scattered and charred debris.
While officials are seeking to determine the cause of the crash, the incident threatens another reputational headache for Boeing, already engulfed in the fallout from two fatal jet crashes that have grounded one of its models.
Determining the reason for Wednesday's crash could take months or even years, and the process is likely to be unusually fraught. The heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran could further complicate efforts by crash investigators.
Iran's state news agency said the plane crashed because of an engine fire caused by a technical fault. It didn't explain how that conclusion was reached. Boeing said it was in contact with Ukraine International Airlines and was ready to assist in any way. "This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers and their families, " Boeing said in a statement.
CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France's Safran SA that makes the 737-800 engine, said it was saddened by the incident but that "any speculation regarding the cause is premature."
In a typical crash probe, Boeing, GE and the U.S. transportation-accident investigation agency would gain access to the site. Based on international convention, investigators usually allow the home country of the airline and the makers of the plane and its major systems to participate in crash probes.That could prove difficult after Iranian threats to target Americans and missile strikes in retaliation for the targeted U.S. killing of an Iranian general.
Iranian investigators have found the plane's black box and it will be analyzed by the Iran Civil Aviation Organization, said Ali Abedzadeh, the organization's chief, according to state-run IRNA news agency. Depending on the technology required to analyze the box, it could be sent to another country, he added.
But in a sign the probe could be impeded by politics, Mr. Abedzadeh also told the semiofficial Mehr News Agency that his organization wouldn't provide Boeing or the U.S. access to the black box. Local officials said the pilot didn't contact air-traffic control about an emergency.
The aircraft was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew. At least 16 were children under the age of 10, according to a passenger list released by the airline. While most of the passengers were Iranian, there were also a number Canadians and Ukrainians on board, as well as citizens of Britain, Germany and Sweden. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were 63 Canadians on board and that the country was in touch with officials in Ukraine and elsewhere to ensure the crash is thoroughly investigated.
Ukraine International Airlines said the Boeing aircraft was manufactured in 2016 and underwent its last scheduled maintenance Jan. 6. The airline said it was working with aviation authorities to determine what happened and had suspended flights to Tehran indefinitely.
The airline said the aircraft was one of its best, and that it hadn't received any safety alerts before the flight, but that the jet disappeared from radar screens minutes after taking off.
It also said the flight crew included three pilots with extensive experience with the aircraft and knowledge of operating at Tehran airport, given the airline uses it for training on the 737. The captain, Volodymyr Gaponenko, had 11,600 hours on Boeing 737, the airline said.
"According to our records, the aircraft ascended as high as 2,400 meters, " said Ihor Sosnovsky, the airline's vice president of operations. "Given the crew's experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his condolences and said the country would send a team of experts to Iran to investigate the circumstances of the crash. Ukraine will also test the airworthiness of its entire fleet of civilian aircraft.
"Our priority is to establish the truth and those responsible for this terrible catastrophe," Mr. Zelensky said in a statement.
Ukraine International Airlines, founded in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, is the country's flag carrier and the largest airline. It has a fleet of 42 jets, most of them modern, Western-built jetliners that are rented from aircraft lessors. Planes operated by the airline haven't crashed before.
Iran, meanwhile, has a relatively poor air safety record. Its airlines and infrastructure have been hobbled by sanctions that led to shortages of spare parts and the cancellation of $40 billion in new aircraft from Boeing and Airbus SE.
For Boeing, the crash follows a series of technical failures with its newer-version 737 MAX aircraft. The Ukrainian 737 is an earlier model and doesn't have the flight-control feature that was implicated in crashes last year and led to the MAX fleet being grounded globally.
Deadly crashes involving the 737-800, a 1990s update of Boeing's workhorse single-aisle jet and part of the 737NG family, have been relatively rare.
In 2006, a new 737-800 crashed in Brazil following a midair collision with an executive jet. In 2007, a 737-800 crashed after takeoff in Cameroon, killing 114 passengers and crew. In 2010, all but eight of 166 passengers and crew died when one of the planes overran a runway in India.
More than 7,000 of the NG jets have been delivered globally, with the 800 being the most common variant in the series.
The aviation industry is already grappling with the heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., with the Middle East one of the world's busiest flight corridors for services between Europe and Asia.
Iran early Wednesday local time launched strikes against two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, attacks that it said were retribution for the U.S. killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani last week.
After the strikes, Dubai-based carriers Emirates Airline and Flydubai canceled flights to and from the Iraqi capital Baghdad. That followed Bahrain-based Gulf Air, Saudi Arabia's Flynas and Royal Jordanian Airlines, which all canceled flights to and from Baghdad on Friday.
The Federal Aviation Administration is now prohibiting U.S. carriers from traveling in airspace over Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf, while Russia has recommended its airlines avoid a similar area, according to Russian news agency Interfax.
Other international airlines including Air France, Qantas and KLM said they would avoid airspace over Iraq and Iran, while Lufthansa canceled Wednesday's flight from Frankfurt to Tehran and said it was evaluating when the service can be resumed.
Kim Mackrael in Ottawa and Ben Otto contributed to this article.
Write to Rory Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org and Georgi Kantchev at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 08, 2020 12:18 ET (17:18 GMT)
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