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First Missile Fired At Ukrainian Plane Did Not Kill Passengers, Iran Civil Aviation Chief Says

People stand near the wreckage after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers was shot down by the Revolutionary Guard near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran on January 8, 2020.

Iran's Civil Aviation Organization Head Touraj Dehghani-Zanganeh says analysis of the data and cockpit talk from the Ukrainian jet shot down by Revolutionary Guard missiles on January 8, 2020 shows the passengers and the crew were not harmed for at least 19 seconds before the second missile hit the plane.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Dehghani-Zanganeh said the data retrieved from the two flight recorders in France shows that the two missiles fired at the plane made contact at 25 seconds apart.

According to Dehghani-Zanganeh, the cockpit voice and data continued to be recorded for 19 seconds after the impact of the first missile explosion, during which time the passengers were alive and the cabin crew who realized the "unnormal situation" tried to navigate the plane until the last minute.

The first missile explosion caused serious damage to the plane, Dehghani-Zanganeh said and added that the damage to the plane's electronic system stopped the flight records after 19 seconds.

Iran at first denied any involvement in the crash, but after three days when overwhelming evidence emerged showing the plane had been shot down, the Revolutionary Guard claimed it was "an accident due to human error" and that the operator of the missile had fired without having orders from his superiors.

Iran also refused to hand over the flight recordings to other countries that could decode the contents for more than six months, after which they were finally surrendered and sent to France for decoding and analysis.

Dehghani-Zanganeh announced that the data from the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder decoded in France has been provided to the other countries whose citizens lost their lives in the crash to offer their own "safety and technical analyses.”

He stressed that the data analysis from the flight recorders should not be used for political purposes, and called on all the parties involved to refrain from analyses or use of the data for purposes other than "[contribution to flight] safety measure.”

"We assure all the airlines that used the Iranian airspace in the past and are not using it now, as well as those countries that are now using it, that flying in Iran's airspace will be safe and secure," Dehghani-Zanganeh promised.

The announcement has added to the emotional ordeal of the families of the victims, who have been asking on social media why a second missile was fired at the plane, 25 seconds after the first, if it was fired by the operator "mistaking the plane for a cruise missile.”

The families of the victims, among others, have asked on social media whether the lives of their loved ones, who were not harmed before the second missile hit the plane, could have been saved, with tweets circulating asking why it had to be fired.

Hamed Esmaeilion, who lost his wife and young daughter in the incident and represents and association of the families of the victims, has called the Civil Aviation Organization's "a shameful performance.” In a Facebook post, Mr. Esmaeilion has said that the new information reveals that the crew were alive before the second missile struck and wanted to return to the airport.

"He urge all the safety organizations involved in this case, Boeing and all involved countries to put an end, as soon as possible, to the psychological war waged against the families of the victims,” he wrote, urging the involved countries to defend the right of the families of the victims to be present in all stages of the investigation. “After eight months, we no longer can endure such bullying, mean and baseless statements.”

Meanwhile, in a tweet on Saturday Sina Rabiei, a student of Tehran University, said Branch 24 of the Revolutionary Guard has sentenced him to three years in prison for "assembly and collusion to act against national security" for participating in the protests that followed the plane crash.

In the past few months the Judiciary has sentenced at least 20 others to prison for participating in the protests in various cities.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.