A Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 people has crashed just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital’s main airport, killing all on board.
The crash involving a Ukraine International Airlines plane came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing US soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy extended his condolences to the families of the victims. His office said he had cut short his visit to Oman and was returning because of the crash. The country’s Prime Minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, confirmed the casualty toll.
“Our task is to establish the cause of the crash of the Boeing and provide all necessary help to the families of the victims,” said parliament speaker Dmytro Razumkov in a Facebook statement.
Ukraine International Airlines said it had indefinitely suspended flights to Tehran after the crash.
“It was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew,” said Yevhen Dykhne, president of Ukraine International Airlines.
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
It remains unclear what happened. Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire struck one of its engines.
The pilot of the aircraft then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Mr Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.
Hassan Razaeifar, the head of Iran’s air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot could not communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight.
Ukrainian authorities have offered to help with the investigation of the plane crash.
The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 1,430-mile flight, slammed into farmland near the town of Shahedshahr on the outskirts of Tehran.
Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.
“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he said. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there.”
The plane carried 167 passengers and nine crew members from different nations on its flight to the Ukrainian capital. The crash killed all on board, Iranian emergency officials and Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said.
The Boeing 737-800 is a very common single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner used for short to medium-range flights. Thousands of the planes are used by airlines around the world.
Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes. Boeing built the aircraft that crashed on Wednesday in 2016 and it last underwent routine maintenance on Monday, Ukraine International Airlines said.
A number of 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.
In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62. Another 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 people.
Chicago-based Boeing said it was “aware of the media reports out of Iran and we are gathering more information”.