A black box recorder recovered from a Ukrainian passenger jet mistakenly shot down by Iran in January captured a conversation in the cockpit moments after a missile strike, officials say.
Data from the Boeing 737 indicated that the pilots and passengers were alive before a second missile hit 25 seconds later, Iran’s aviation authority said.
The Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) flight crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran.
All 176 people on board were killed.
After initially denying any responsibility for the incident, Iran admitted it had shot down the UIA flight “unintentionally”, calling it a “disastrous mistake” by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Iran’s air defences had been on high alert at the time. Hours earlier, the country had fired ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani by a US drone strike in Baghdad.
During a press conference on Sunday, Capt Zanganeh, head of the Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran (CAOI), said “up to 19 seconds” of conversation between two pilots and a pilot instructor had been captured in the aircraft’s cabin after the first missile struck.
It was “25 seconds later that the second missile hit the plane”, he said, adding: “They were piloting the plane until the last moment.”
He said information recorded by the plane’s black boxes – which hold key data and communications from the cockpit – indicated that the aircraft had been “in a normal flight corridor” before the first missile exploded, sending shrapnel into the aircraft.
Capt Zanganeh added: “At this moment, the plane has an electrical problem and the auxiliary power of the plane is turned on at the order of the pilot instructor. Both engines were on in the seconds after the explosion.
“No sound was heard from the passenger cabin at that moment… The recording stopped after 19 seconds.”
No details of the cockpit conversation were disclosed.
Iran had delayed releasing the plane’s “black box” voice recorder but in July sent it to France for examination.
No other parties involved in the black box analysis have yet commented.
On 8 January, at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT), UIA flight PS752 took off from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran.
The plane was a Boeing 737-800 – one of the international airline industry’s most widely used aircraft models.
Before leaving the airport’s air space, the plane appeared to turn around to return to the runway. Shortly afterwards, it crashed.
The government in Tehran initially said the UIA plane had suffered a technical problem shortly after take-off. It cited witnesses including the crew of another passenger plane who said it had been on fire prior to impact.
Authorities said they had lost radar contact when the plane was at an altitude of about 8,000ft (2,400m), minutes after taking off.
A later report by the CAOI said the air defence unit that targeted the passenger plane had recently moved and had failed to calibrate its equipment correctly. As a result, it misidentified the civilian plane as a hostile object.
The report also said the missile battery had been unable to communicate with their command centre, and had fired on the plane without receiving official approval.