Ukrainian Boeing 737 crashes after take-off in Iran, all 176 aboard killed

DUBAI/KIEV, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran early on Wednesday, bursting into flames and killing all 176 people on board.

Debris and smoldering engine parts from the Boeing 737, which carrier Ukraine International Airlines said was last serviced two days ago, were strewn across a field southwest of the Iranian capital where rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

Among the victims were 82 from Iran, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, three Germans and three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said. Most passengers were in transit, the airline said.

The accident occurred as the confrontation between Iran and the United States threatens to trigger a wider conflict in the Middle East, but officials cautioned that speculation about the cause of the crash was premature.

It was the Kiev-based carrier's first fatal accident, and it said it was doing everything possible to establish what had happened.

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Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as authorities work at the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers search the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A rescue worker searches the scene where a Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A police officer stands guard as debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A rescue worker searches the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue team work at the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Flight crew members walk past the arrivals board with the cancelled flight from Tehran after Ukrainian 737-800 plane crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, at Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Debris is seen from an Ukrainian plane which crashed as rescue workers search the scene in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A man takes a photo of the arrivals board with the cancelled fight from Tehran after Ukrainian 737-800 plane crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, at Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Rescue workers search the scene where an Ukrainian plane crashed in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane with more than 170 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash in Shahedshahr southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
A relative of one of flight stewardesses, who were on the board a Ukrainian 737-800 plane that crashed on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, reacts at Borispil international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard, Iranian state TV and officials in Ukraine said. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Coordinator of the Ukrainian Ministry of foreign affairs operational crisis group Maksym Kovalenko speaks to media during a briefing in Kiev on January 8, 2020. - All passengers and crew on board the Ukrainian Boeing 737 plane that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on January 8, 2020 were killed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV / AFP) (Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Bodies of passengers are being carried from the site by search and rescue team members after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Bodies of passengers are being carried from the site by search and rescue team members after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
A relative of passengers and crew members of the crashed Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 reacts at the Boryspil airport outside Kiev on January 8, 2020. - All passengers and crew on board the Ukrainian Boeing 737 plane that crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran on January 8, 2020 were killed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky / AFP) (Photo by SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Passengers' belongings are seen as search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Passengers' belongings are seen as search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - All 176 people on board a Ukrainian passenger plane were killed when it crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on January 8, Iranian state media reported. State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members were on board the aircraft operated by Ukraine International Airlines. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Rescue teams work amidst debris after a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers crashed near Imam Khomeini airport in the Iranian capital Tehran early in the morning on January 8, 2020, killing everyone on board. - All 176 people on board a Ukrainian passenger plane were killed when it crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on January 8, Iranian state media reported. State news agency IRNA said 167 passengers and nine crew members were on board the aircraft operated by Ukraine International Airlines. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 08: Search and rescue works are conducted at site after a Boeing 737 plane belonging to a Ukrainian airline crashed near Imam Khomeini Airport in Iran just after takeoff with 180 passengers on board in Tehran, Iran on January 08, 2020. All 167 passengers and nine crew members on an Ukrainian 737 plane that crashed near Iran's capital Tehran early Wednesday have died, according to a state official. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Under international rules, responsibility for investigating the crash lies with Iran, and Iranian state television said both of the plane's black boxes had been found.

An amateur video, run by Iranian news agencies and purportedly of the crashed plane, showed a flash in the sky descending rapidly with comments that the aircraft was "on fire," followed by a larger flash as it appears to hit the ground. Reuters could not independently authenticate the footage.

Asked at a briefing in Kiev if the plane could have been downed by a missile, Ukraine's Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk cautioned against speculation until the results of the investigation were known.

 

CRISIS

Relations between Washington and Tehran are in crisis, with Iran having launched missiles at bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq several hours before the plane crash, in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike last week that killed an Iranian military commander.

Major airlines canceled Iran and Iraq flights and re-routed others away from both countries' airspace following the Iranian missile strikes.

In Paris, the maker of the plane's engines, French-U.S. firm CFM - co-owned by General Electric and France’s Safran - said any speculation regarding the cause was premature.

Safety experts say airliner accidents are rarely triggered by a single cause and that it typically takes months of investigation to understand all the factors behind them.

An official at Ukraine's embassy in Tehran said Iranian authorities had asked it to rescind an initial statement from Iran based on preliminary information that had blamed the accident on engine failure.

Iranian TV said the crash was due to unspecified technical problems, and Iranian media quoted a local aviation official as saying the pilot did not declare an emergency.

Offering "sincere condolences" to relatives of victims, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he had instructed his prosecutor general to open criminal proceedings following the crash, without specifying who they would involve.

Ukraine would test the airworthiness of its entire civilian fleet of aircraft, he added.

 

GOOD SAFETY RECORD

The plane that crashed was a three-year-old Boeing 737-800NG en route to Kiev. Its last scheduled maintenance was on Jan. 6, the airline said.

A spokesman for the manufacturer said it was gathering more information.

"We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed," the company said in a later statement.

The 737-800 is one of the world’s most-flown models with a good safety record and does not have the software feature implicated in crashes of the 737 MAX. Boeing grounded its 737 MAX fleet in March after two crashes that killed 346 people.

Modern aircraft are designed and certified to cope with an engine failure shortly after take-off and to fly for extended periods on one engine. However, an uncontained engine failure releasing shrapnel can cause damage to other aircraft systems.

Under international rules, Ukraine would be involved in the investigation into Wednesday's crash, and the United States would usually be accredited as the country where the jet was designed and built. France, where engine maker CFM has half its activities, may also be involved.

There was no immediate word on whether the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board would be involved. The NTSB usually invites Boeing to give technical advice in such investigations.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Dubai newsroom, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by John Stonestreet; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Simon Cameron-Moore and Giles Elgood)

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