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All On Board Are Killed When Ukrainian Jetliner Crashes In Iran


OK. So just hours after these missile strikes, another major story developed in Iran. A passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff at Tehran's international airport. This aircraft, a Boeing 737 operated by Ukraine International Airlines, it disappeared from radar just minutes into its flight to Kyiv. A video that's been widely circulating on social media seems to show this plane on fire before it exploded into this huge fireball. Now, we should say NPR has not confirmed that video's authenticity. We do know all the passengers, 176 passengers and crew onboard the plane, did not survive. Journalist Charles Maynes has been following this story from Moscow. And, Charles, what is the latest we know from this crash site?

CHARLES MAYNES: Well, as you know, David, it's 176 dead, although we've seen these very numbers through the morning from various different news agencies. But the point here is there are no survivors. That's for certain. Iranian rescue workers are on the ground. They're attempting to recover remains that are scattered among the wreckage. That's no easy task. About the crash itself, we know that Iranian emergency ministry officials say this was due to technical error. They say the engine burned up. And they say they found the black boxes. So I imagine we'll find out more. You mentioned this witness video, this purported witness video. Indeed, it does seem to show a plane on fire and losing altitude before hitting the ground in this massive explosion, if in fact that's what it was.

GREENE: Do we know about the victims, where they're from?

MAYNES: Well, right. So we've been hearing from - Ukraine's foreign ministry posted a tweet this morning that said of the 176 people onboard, just a few in fact were from Ukraine, the vast majority from Iran - perhaps not so surprising - but also from Canada, the rest from Afghanistan, Great Britain and Europe. But just to be clear, no Americans onboard.

GREENE: Just to be really clear, Charles, I mean, given the missile attacks from Iran, given all the news we've been covering in this region, is there any suggestion here that this was anything other than, as you said, a technical error, something like that, that led to what seems like an accident?

MAYNES: Right. Iran says it's not, and the Ukrainians seem to be backing them up. The Ukrainian Embassy in Tehran said it ruled out terrorism as a cause of the crash and that preliminary information showed the crash was indeed caused by engine failure. But, of course, this does come after these missiles were launched by Iran towards the American bases in Iraq. Interesting to see that Jordanian state media issued a - had a tweet, actually, that came out this morning saying that it wasn't - the plane had in fact been brought down by missile. There's not a lot to back that up. But as it happens, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is in Jordan right now on an official visit. He's been posting on Facebook all morning and first offering condolences and then saying that he'd ordered a criminal investigation into the crash and that all theories were still on the table.

GREENE: So we might be learning more. I just also want to clarify something else for our listeners, Charles. This plane that crashed was a Boeing 737, not, though, a 737 MAX, which is the type of aircraft that has had so many problems we've been reporting on, those two other crashes.

MAYNES: That's right. This is a Boeing 737-800 NG, to be specific about the model. It's not, of course, the MAX, which has had so much trouble of late. We do know this plane was about 3 1/2 years old. The airline issued a statement noting they bought the aircraft direct from Boeing in 2016, and its last scheduled maintenance actually took place just two days ago on January 6. So, of course, a lot of questions as to what happened and if indeed this is a tech issue as we're being told.

GREENE: And what happens now in terms of an investigation?

MAYNES: Well, you know, first of all, the airline isn't taking any chances. They've canceled any flights to Tehran just in case. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have launched their criminal investigation. Iran's civil aviation authority has their investigation. Presumably, they'll work together. One big question - what role Boeing might play in all this given the current hostilities between the U.S. and Iran.

GREENE: Journalist Charles Maynes covering this story from Moscow. Charles, thanks so much.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF FEDERICO ALBANESE'S "THE ROOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.