TEHRAN: A Ukrainian passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on Wednesday killing all 176 people on board, mainly Iranians and Canadians.

Search-and-rescue teams were combing through the smoking wreckage of the Boeing 737 flight from Tehran to Kiev but officials said there was no hope of finding anyone alive.

The vast majority of the passengers on the Ukraine International Airlines flight were non-Ukrainians, including 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians, officials said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa would work to ensure a thorough investigation into the crash. “This morning, I join Canadians across the country who are shocked and saddened to see reports that a plane crash outside of Tehran, Iran, has claimed the lives of 176 people, including 63 Canadians,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Trudeau urges thorough probe; black boxes recovered

The crash occurred with tensions high in the Middle East and shortly after Tehran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing US troops.

However, there was no immediate indication of foul play and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against “speculating” on the cause of the disaster.

The US aviation authority said it had banned US-registered carriers from flying over Iraq, Iran and the Gulf, and airlines including Lufthansa and Air France suspended flights through Iraqi and Iranian airspace.

Footage released by Iranian state media showed a field on fire and the smouldering wreck of the plane.

Body bags were lined up on the ground and the passengers’ personal items — including luggage, clothes, a Santa Claus doll and a boxing glove — were scattered in the debris.

UIA, the ex-Soviet country’s privately owned main carrier, said flight PS752 took off from Tehran airport at 6:10am and disappeared from radars minutes later.

It slammed into farmland at Khalaj Abad, in Shahriar county, about 45km northwest of the airport, Iranian state media said.

As well as the Iranians and Canadians, the passengers included 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons, Ukraine’s foreign minister said.

Eleven Ukrainians, including the nine crew, were among the victims.

Canada is home to a large Iranian diaspora community and UIA offers discount flights between Tehran and Toronto, with a transit in Kiev.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Ottawa was in touch with Kiev about the crash. “Our hearts are with the loved ones of the victims, including many Canadians,” he said on Twitter.

In a statement, Prime Minister Trudeau said: “Our government will continue to work closely with its international partners to ensure that this crash is thoroughly investigated, and that Canadians’ questions are answered.”

UIA released a list of the names and birth years of passengers. At least 25 were under the age of 18.

Two passengers registered on the flight did not board before take-off, Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, told reporters.

The airline said the Boeing 737 had been built in 2016 and checked only two days before the accident. It was Kiev-based UIA’s first fatal crash.

“The plane was in working order,” UIA company president Yevgeniy Dykhne told a briefing in Kiev where he choked back tears. “It was one of our best planes with a wonderful crew.”

The airline is in part owned by Igor Kolomoisky, a controversial Ukrainian businessman with ties to President Zelensky.

The president, who cut short a vacation in Oman to return to Kiev, ordered an investigation into the crash and a sweeping check of “all civilian aircraft” in the country.

“I ask everyone to keep from speculating and putting forth unconfirmed theories about the crash,” Zelensky wrote on Facebook.

Iranian state media reported that the plane caught fire after crashing, but a video aired by the state broadcaster appeared to show the plane already on fire as it fell from the night sky.

“There is a lot of speculation at the moment [that] it has been shot down — I think that is not going to be the case at all,” said Stephen Wright, a professor of aircraft systems at Tampere University in Finland.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2020