Canadian TSB agents deployed to Iran for crash investigation

Two Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigators have arrived in Tehran as part of an international probe of the Jan. 8 downing of a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing which killed all 178 aboard, including 57 Canadian citizens.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Photo
This photo from Ukrainian crash investigators shows a piece of the cockpit from UIA Flight 752. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service Photo
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“We have been in direct contact with the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) . . . of Iran since shortly after we learned of the accident,” TSB Chair Kathy Fox explained at a news conference in Ottawa Jan. 13.

“Given the high number of Canadian fatalities, we have confirmed our role as an expert and accepted Iran’s invitation to attend the accident site as entitled in Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.”

That “expert” status means the Canadian investigators (identities are being withheld for what Fox said are “privacy and security” reasons) will have access to the crash site. That is several kilometres from where UIA flight PS752 took off from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport on a scheduled flight to Kyiv, Ukraine, before it was shot down minutes later by an Iranian missile.

The Canadian investigators also will have access to a hangar where wreckage is stored as well as probable access to flight data and cockpit voice recorders, both of which were damaged.

“I can’t give you a complete assessment of the extent of the damage because . . . we’ve only seen photos,” said Fox. “I can tell you that the Iranians, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau are currently looking at some of the challenges associated with downloading and analyzing damaged recorders. They have reached out to other countries . . . for technical assistance.” She also said there also is a possibility that the recorders might be shipped elsewhere for data retrieval and study.

Nazanin Tabatabaee/Reuters Photo
Although they initially blamed mechanical issues for the crash, Iran officials confirmed the aircraft was downed by an Iranian Republican Guard missile battery. Nazanin Tabatabaee/Reuters Photo

Iran had issued visas for the two TSB members over the weekend. They had been waiting in Ankara, Turkey, along with other members of a federal Standing Rapid Deployment Team (SRDT) that includes consular officials.

Fox told Skies that the initial visas were valid for at least 14 days and could be extended at Tehran’s discretion. More TSB specialists in downloading and analyzing flight data and cockpit voice recorder data are expected join their colleagues once details of their work are finalized. She pointed out that Canada, with more 30 years of aviation accident investigation, is a globally-acknowledged authority in the field.

Other parties to the investigation are what Natacha Van Themsche, a former Royal Canadian Air Force aerospace engineer and now TSB Director of Air Investigations who joined Fox at the news conference, called “accreps” or accredited representatives, with access to all aspects of the inquiry.

They include not only Iran but also Ukraine as the aircraft operator. Others include the U.S., where the Boeing was designed and built, and France where engines are manufactured by a French-U.S. joint venture

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Fox, who holds an airline transport licence and flight instructor rating and has flown more than 5,000 hours, did confirm to Skies that the TSB had details, albeit “not directly”, from Ukrainian investigators about the probable cause of the crash: a missile detonation which riddled the Boeing with shrapnel.

Iran, which first blamed mechanical issues aboard the Boeing and that it had veered into prohibited airspace, eventually admitted responsibility, saying the missile launch was “unintentional.”

But even though the cause is clearly known, Fox said a full formal investigation is designed to address all factors which could yield internationally-accepted recommendations designed to prevent a recurrence.

“Whether it was accidental or intentional, that is something that investigators would normally pursue,” said Fox, adding that investigators will consider all possibilities. “We don’t take that just at face value,” she said. “We need to corroborate that, validate that information through other mean.”

The Canadian government had made it clear from the outset that the TSB had to be involved. “All participating countries reaffirmed the need for a full and transparent investigation,” Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters in Ottawa earlier.

Having spoken with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, as well as Ali Larijani, the influential speaker of Iran’s Parliament, Champagne said “the world is watching” to see how the Iranian authorities handled the situation.

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