Iran has announced its military 'unintentionally' shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 aboard.
The statement, run on Iranian state TV, came on Saturday morning (local time) and blamed "human error" for the shoot down.
The Boeing 737 operated by Ukrainian International Airlines went down on the outskirts of Tehran during take-off just hours after Iran launched a barrage of missiles at US forces in neighbouring Iraq, in retaliation to the US killing an Iranian General on January 3.
Iran had denied for several days a missile downed the aircraft.
The military mistook the aircraft for a “hostile target”, according to a statement issued to state media.
The statement alleges the aircraft turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the revolutionary Guard.
“In such a condition, because of human error and in an unintentional way, the flight was hit,” the statement said, apologising for the disaster and stating upgrades to the system would be made to prevent “mistakes” in the future.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster. Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted.
The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries – including 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight was departing from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran when tragedy struck on Wednesday.
Flight data shows the aircraft stopped sending data almost immediately after take-off that morning.
‘Mechanical issues’ initially cited as cause of plane crash
Iran continually denied striking down the plane, even as late as Friday, after the United States and Canada released data backing up allegations of a missile-strikes being the cause of the crash.
Initially, it was suspected the plane was brought down due to ‘mechanical issues’, according to local press.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference, pointing the finger at Iran, stating evidence suggested the plane was shot down by anti-aircraft missiles.
“We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence,” Mr Trudeau said.
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.”
The crash came days after a US military operation killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani on January 3.
Soleimani was the head of the Quds Force, a unit in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, directed to carry out unconventional warfare and intelligence activities.
The general’s death sent shockwaves through international intelligence and security circles, and there were fears the assassination would escalate the conflict between the US and Iran.
Iran’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the crash was likely to inflame public sentiment against authorities after Iranians had rallied around their leaders in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.
The general was seen as a national icon and hundreds of thousands of Iranians had turned out for funeral processions across the country.
with The Associated Press and AAP
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.