Iran rules out a missile strike as the cause of a Ukrainian passenger plane crash, saying such a scenario made "no sense," as US media citing officials report the plane was mistakenly downed by Iran during confrontation with US.

In this photo taken on January 8, 2020, rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, killing everyone on board.
In this photo taken on January 8, 2020, rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, killing everyone on board. (AFP)

The US government believes Iran "accidentally" shot down a Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, three US officials told Reuters on Thursday.

Citing an extensive review of satellite data, one official said the government had concluded with a high degree of certainty that Iranian anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane.

The officials said the plane had been tracked by Iranian radar before the missiles were fired.

The data showed the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 bound for Kiev was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected, one of the officials said.

That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, this official said. Heat signature data then showed the plane on fire as it went down.

Newsweek, CBS, and CNN, also cited unnamed officials, saying that satellite, radar and electronic data indicated the tragic error, which followed a ballistic missile barrage by Iran on two military bases in Iraq where US troops work.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, "There is now a body of information that the flight was shot down by an Iranian surface to air missile."

The New York Times posted a video Thursday it said it had verified showing the moment the apparent missile struck the plane over Iran. The video shows a fast-moving object rising before a fiery explosion. An object, apparently on fire, then continues in a different direction.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose country lost at least 63 citizens in the downing, said in Toronto: “We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”

The Iranian government, in a statement, urged Canada to share its information after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said "multiple" intelligence sources indicate that Iran shot down the Boeing airliner. 

Iran's foreign ministry also invited the US planemaker Boeing to "participate" in its inquiry into the crash.

Iran denies 'illogical rumours'

The head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation on Thursday denied "illogical rumours" that a Ukrainian airliner that crashed near Tehran had been hit by a missile, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. 

"Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical," ISNA quoted Ali Abedzadeh as saying.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday the deadly crash could have been a mistake and he did not believe it was a mechanical issue.

Speaking at the White House, Trump categorically denied the crash was due to US action, insisting instead that he has "suspicions" about the "tragic" incident.

"Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side," Trump said, referring to Iran. "Some people say it was mechanical. I don't think that's even a question personally."

The three officials said Washington believed the downing of the plane was an accident. 

It occurred shortly after Iran had fired missiles at two US military bases in Iraq and Iranians were on high alert for a US military response.

An Iranian report on Thursday cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

Boeing declines to comment

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment on Thursday, as did the Pentagon. Ukrainian officials had no immediate comment.

Boeing is still reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes in five months that led to the plane's grounding in March 2019. The 737-800 that crashed was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX. 

Boeing has built about 5,000 of those planes, which has a good safety record.

Boeing shares rose 1.7 percent on Thursday.

Ukraine calls for 'evidence' in plane crash probe
Ukraine asked Western nations to provide any evidence they may have to help investigators probing the crash.

"Our country has every interest in establishing the truth. That is why we are calling on Ukraine's Western partners: If you have evidence to assist the inquiry, we call on you to provide it," the Ukraine presidency said in a statement.

Canada demands role in probe

Ottawa called on Thursday for its own experts to be allowed to join the investigation into the crash of an airliner near Tehran that killed dozens of Canadian citizens of Iranian origin.

In a rare phone call with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif late Wednesday, Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called for Iran to allow Canadian investigators into the country, the Canadian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Minister Champagne stressed the need for Canadian officials to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash," the statement said.

Champagne told Zarif that "Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered."

Such direct contact is rare since Canada broke off diplomatic ties in 2012 in protest at Tehran's support for the Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies