Most of the dead were Iranian. Many were students; some were headed to Canada to resume their studies there after the holiday break. In the days after the shoot-down, Iranian campuses erupted in protests as grief-stricken and angry youths called for justice.
The downing occurred at a time when regional tensions were boiling. A U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani on Jan. 3, and Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The Iranian armed forces were then bracing for a counterstrike.
The civil aviation authority claims in the new report that the radar that the missile operator was monitoring had been misaligned, causing it to misinterpret the location of the passenger jet and indicate instead that there might be a second, unidentified, aircraft in the air.
“A failure occurred due to a human error in following the procedure” for aligning the radar, causing a “107-degree error” in the system, the authority reported. It then detailed, minute by minute, the chain of events that led to the plane’s targeting. The missile operator contacted higher command but received no response, the authority said. Twenty seconds later, the first of two missiles were fired said. Video footage showed the second appearing to hit the aircraft. It erupted in a fireball before crashing on farmland on the outskirts of Tehran.
The report did not include the names of any individuals deemed responsible. The authority argued that this would have hampered the investigators’ ability to secure the cooperation of those involved. It said revealing their identities would be decided through the country’s judiciary.
Comments attributed to judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency last month suggested that six arrests had been made. Three of the alleged suspects had been let out on bail.
More details of the crash could become clearer later this month, when Iran is expected to send the aircraft’s black boxes — the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder — for examination by French and Ukrainian experts.
In Canada last month, the University of Alberta said it was awarding posthumous degrees to five of its students who were killed in the crash. Asal Andarzipour, president of the university’s Iranian Students’ Association, told Canadian news program the Current it was an act of “remembrance” for her peers.
“It’s also about the unexpectedness of life, and I think it’s a good lesson to take advantage of the moment while we are here,” she said.
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