Evidence Shows Iranian Missile Downed PS752, Trudeau Says

An infrared image taken by the WorldView-2 satellite on Jan. 9 shows a debris field about 400 m in length.
Credit: Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that initial intelligence points to an Iranian surface-to-air missile bringing down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752), refuting Iranian claims that no evidence of an unlawful act has been discovered.  

“We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” Trudeau said during a Jan. 9 press briefing in Ottawa, adding it was likely to come as a shock to the Canadians still reeling from the tragedy. “This may well have been unintentional. This new information reinforces the need for a thorough investigation into this matter.”

Trudeau called for a “full and credible investigation, on site, with international partners.” Iran is running the investigation, per international aviation accident protocol. Several hours after Trudeau’s comments, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada accepted an invitation to participate in the PS752 investigation.

“We are working with Ukrainian investigators at this time,” he said. “Canadians have questions and they deserve answers ... I want answers. That means closure, transparency, accountability and justice. This government will not rest until we get that.”

Trudeau declined to detail the intelligence but expressed confidence in its veracity.

“The preliminary conclusions we have been able to draw based on evidence and intelligence are clear enough to for me to share with Canadians right now,” he said.

The initial Iran Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (IAAIB) report to ICAO, submitted Jan. 9, pledged to follow ICAO protocol, and said it has not turned up evidence of “unlawful” acts linked to PS752. 

IAAIB said it “would like to invite all the states involved in the accident to participate in the investigation process ... in accordance with [ICAO] Annex 13,” an official English translation of the report said. Under ICAO protocol, this includes Canada, which had 63 citizens among the 176 killed in the Jan 8 crash near Tehran.

The IAAIB said its initial steps included setting up groups to focus on different technical aspects of the incident, per ICAO guidance. “A certain group was added ... in order to investigate the issues concerning any unlawful actions,” IAAIB explained. “A special group was formed and any laser attacks and electromagnetic (radioactive) threats and unlawful actions have been rejected by conducting the relevant sampling and analysis up to now,” the agency said. The fatalities included 130 Iranian citizens.

Ukraine National Security and Defense Council secretary Oleksiy Danilov, who arrived in Tehran early on Jan. 9 as part of his country’s delegation, confirmed that a military strike is among the primary theories that investigators are considering.

“Our commission ... intends to search [for] fragments of the [Tor] Russian anti-aircraft rocket,” he told reporters, citing media reports that say fragments of a Tor have been found near the wreckage. “We use all the experience of investigating the attack on [Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17] to establish the truth,” he added. Other possible explanations include a terrorist attack, collision with an unmanned vehicle or other object, or an engine failure, Danilov said.

“At the moment we are conducting effective diplomatic negotiations with the Iranian side, there is every reason to hope for cooperation on all issues, including the participation of our commission in deciphering the [flight data and cockpit voice recorders] of our aircraft,” Danilov said. Eleven Ukrainians, including all nine crew members, were among the victims.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said officials have “a body of information” that PS752 was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. “This may well have been unintentional ...  There now needs to be a full and transparent investigation,” he added. Four British nationals were killed in the crash.

It is not clear what agency will analyze the flight data and cockpit voice recorders. Trudeau said that Iranian officials have said they plan to keep the aircraft’s recorders in the country.

Flight PS752 departed IKA within hours of Iran’s ballistic missile attack from inside the country on U.S. forces based in Iraq. The attack was in retaliation for a U.S. strike on an Iranian convoy traveling near Baghdad International Airport that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major General Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3.

Tehran is protected by a ring of air defense missile systems, supplied primarily by Russia but also including some from the U.S., that would have likely been on high alert following Iran’s retaliatory strike. 

Officials, including Danilov and unnamed U.S. sources cited in reports by Newsweek and CBS, are focusing their attention on the possibility that PS752 was bought down by SA-15 “Gauntlet” missiles fired from a Russian-made Almaz-Antey Tor-M1 road-mobile air-defense system. Images taken near PS752’s debris field showing wreckage from the front end of a Tor-M1 were circulating on social media on Jan 9. Iran is reported to have around 25-30 Tor-M1 systems in service, under the control of the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, delivered in 2007, a report from Russian RIA Novosti news agency said. 

The Tor-M1 is an entirely self-contained air defense system with radar surveillance, launcher and command and-control system. As a backup to its radar, the system also can use a TV-optical tracker for missile guidance. 

As a point defense weapon, the system was developed to bring down weapons such as cruise missiles, helicopters and combat aircraft using its 15-kg (33-lb.) fragmentation warhead, almost a fifth smaller than the warhead of the Buk missile that bought down Flight MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014.

Trudeau said he spoke with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte about his country’s role in leading the probe that determined MH17, a Boeing 777, was accidentally shot down by pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

“He shared with me his experience in handling the aftermath and investigation into Malaysia Airlines Flight 17,” Trudeau said.

The Dutch Safety Board, or OVV, conducted three investigations into MH17, including the primary incident report. OVV followed Annex 13 protocol where possible.

IAAIB’s initial report on PS752 said the 737-800 pushed back at 5:45 a.m. local time, 30 min. later than scheduled, to begin its flight from Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKA) to Kyiv Boryspil International Airport (KBP). It departed via IKA’s Runway 29R at 0613. IKA controllers handed the aircraft to colleagues at Merhbad Airport and the aircraft was approved to climb to FL260 (26,000 ft). 

“Initially, the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 8,000 ft. and turned to the right, when it disappeared off the approach radar scope, and by losing height, it impacted the ground and disintegrated,” the IAAIB report said. “No radio communication indicating the unusual conditions was received from the pilot.” Contact with PS752 was lost at 6:18 a.m.

Witness reports from the ground and nearby aircraft reported an “intensifying” fire onboard an aircraft heading towards the ground.

“The crash site track indicates that the aircraft was first approaching west to exit the airport boundary, but turned right following a technical problem, and had a track showing returning to the airport,” IAAIB said. 

The aircraft’s initial impact point was a recreational park just southwest of Tehran, about 10 mi. north of the departure runway’s end. The debris field’s path is about 1,300 ft. long, running south to north, a satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows.

Both the flight data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered, the report confirms, and are “damaged as a result of the accident and catching fire.” The memory components of both “are in good condition,” but physical damage “is noticeable.”

Jen DiMascio

Based in Washington, Jen manages Aviation Week’s worldwide defense, space and security coverage.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.


A sad day! I wonder if we will ever know who issued the order for the shoot down.
No communication from the pilot, then how did the IAAIB know it was returning for a technical problem?