The missile strike conducted by the Iranians on the United States’ bases in Iraq as retaliation against the United States for the drone airstrike on January 3 that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force, may have claimed unintended victims: Pentagon and intelligence officials increasingly believe that the airliner that took off from Tehran bound for Ukraine was mistakenly shot down by a Russian-made, Iranian air defense missile. 

The Boeing 737 airliner took off shortly after the Iranians had launched several rockets at the U.S. bases. The sight of an aircraft on Iranian radars may have mistakenly been considered a hostile aircraft.

The crash killed all 176 people on board. The passengers consisted of 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, as well as 11 Ukrainians. Many of the dead were thought to be international university students returning to Canada after a holiday break. 

Recent reports state that Ukrainian investigators are awaiting permission from Iranian authorities to examine the crash site and look for evidence of what could have caused the crash, including missile fragments. However, Iran’s head of civil aviation tried to pooh-pooh that notion. He told the ISNA News Agency on Thursday that “scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumors are illogical.” 

Iranian officials have blamed a technical malfunction for the aircraft’s crashing, but they have refused to turn over the important black boxes to the Ukraine government or to Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer.

President Trump made a statement that he too believes that it was an Iranian mistake. “Well, I have my suspicions,” he said. He added: “It’s a tragic thing.” It was flying in a pretty rough neighborhood,” he said. “Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.”

U.S. officials told Fox News that they believe that a Russian-made SA15 missile, which is part of the Tor surface-to-air missile system, was the kind that brought down the aircraft. (The Russians delivered 29 Tor-M1 systems to Iran as part of a $700 million contract signed over a decade ago.)

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“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,” Secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council Oleksiy Danilov, said to local Ukrainian media members.

Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, an Iranian armed forces spokesman, denied, via a statement at the Fars news agency, that a missile hit the airplane. He called the allegations that Iranian air defenses shot down the plane “psychological warfare” by foreign-based Iranian opposition groups.

What is known is that the plane took off at 6:12 a.m. after being delayed for about an hour at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport. Flight tracking data confirms that the aircraft reached 8000 feet AGL when something went wrong. 

At no time did the pilots radio back to the tower, which is normal in an emergency situation. Pilots are trained to first keep the aircraft flying and then radio the tower to clear the runway.

Witnesses on the ground and from another aircraft flying above the plane in question stated that the aircraft was on fire before it crashed in a huge fireball at 6:18 a.m. on Wednesday. Carrying a full planeload of fuel would have caused that fire. The plane crashed outside the town of Shahedshahr to the northeast of its last reported position.

The black boxes, which contain flight data information as well as cockpit communications, have been recovered but were damaged according to news reports. The Iranians remain steadfast in their refusal to turn them over.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said that he planned to call Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the crash and the investigation. “Undoubtedly, the priority for Ukraine is to identify the causes of the plane crash,” he said. “We will surely find out the truth.”

While he cautioned on speculation, he made it clear that Ukraine wants a thorough investigation with outside authorities. “I call on the international community, including Canada, to join the investigation,” he added.

Sergiy Kyslytsya, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs for Ukraine, said on Thursday: “We insist [that] Iran give us full access to the investigation and to the materials of the investigation and I call on everyone to avoid any speculations,”