Iran: Flight recorder of downed Ukrainian jetliner ‘considerably damaged’
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Iran: Flight recorder of downed Ukrainian jetliner ‘considerably damaged’

Maintaining refusal to hand over black box device, Iranian defense minister says his country will repair it and then attempt to read information stored on it

People and rescue teams amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, killing everyone on board, January 8, 2020. (Rouhollah Vahdati/ISNA/AFP)
People and rescue teams amid bodies and debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran, killing everyone on board, January 8, 2020. (Rouhollah Vahdati/ISNA/AFP)

The flight recorder from a Ukrainian jetliner accidentally shot down by Iranian forces in January suffered significant damage and must be repaired before it can be decoded, Iranian Defense Minister of Brig. Gen. Amir Hatami said Wednesday.

Iran has come under international pressure to carry out a full and transparent investigation into the air disaster, but has so far refused to hand over the flight recorders, known as the black boxes, to foreign aviation specialists for decoding.

Hatami told reporters outside a cabinet meeting in Tehran that “the black box has sustained considerable damage; as such, the defense industries sector was requested to help with the repairs on the black box,” Iran’s Mehr news agency reported in an English translation of his remarks.

“It was decided to first complete the repairs on the black box, and then to attempt to decode it,” Hatami explained and said the repair work was already underway.

Illustrative: A black box flight recorder from a crashed airliner, March 14, 2019. (BEA via AP)

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization has previously said it was unable to read the recorders as it did not have the technical means.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps air defenses fired two missiles at Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 shortly after it took off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board. Hours earlier, the Guard had launched ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq in response to the US airstrike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad. Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a US cruise missile as part of a possible reprisal strike.

Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate. But three days later, Tehran admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

The deadly blunder triggered days of student-led protests mainly in the Iranian capital.

Iranian police officers take position while protesters gather in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile, during a rally on January 11, 2020. (AP Photo/File)

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said in a preliminary report last month that it was “impossible” for it to read the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — commonly known as black boxes — because they are so advanced.

But it suggests Iran wants to keep them for the time being.

“If devices are provided, the information (on the black boxes) can be restored and retrieved in a short period of time,” it said.

The Civil Aviation Organization said it had asked its French and US counterparts, the BEA and NTSB respectively, to provide a list of the equipment required to read the black boxes.

It said it had also sought the transfer of the required equipment, but added that neither the BEA nor NTSB had “so far responded positively” to such a transfer.

The organization said it had acquired the list nonetheless, without saying how, and hinted that it would use it to buy the equipment itself.

The International Civil Aviation Organization requires that flight recorders be designed to survive the extreme conditions of an air crash including high impacts and temperatures.

Iran may be hesitant to turn over the recorders for fear that more details from the crash — including the harrowing 20 seconds between when the first and second surface-to-air missiles hit the plane — will come to light.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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