The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Vadym Prystaiko, held a press briefing on January 10 on the fatal crash of Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 that killed all 176 people on board. He responded to journalist’s questions on the Iranian missile theory, Ukrainian-Iranian cooperation on the ground, and more.
The briefing began with a quick summary of the current situation in Ukraine with regards to the crash: “This morning, the president met with representatives from the U.S. embassy, who provided us with their own information. We just finished a meeting with the British ambassador...I just finished speaking to the Canadian prime minister [Justin] Trudeau...The Ukrainian side is actively working in a specially created headquarters… We’re in constant contact with our team in Tehran.”
The foreign minister added that the Ukrainian investigative team in Iran consists of around 50 people who are currently working to reconstruct the plane in order to understand what had occurred, adding that “We have full cooperation with the Iranian side. The Iranian side isn’t just helping us – we have obtained access to both the parts of the plane and the crash site – police are helping ensuring the site’s safety… Now our team has received access to the black box, which we plan to use soon to reconstruct the negotiations.”
He also said that the Ukrainian team has access to dispatches from the Iranian air control towers, and the Ukrainian pilots of the doomed flight.
However, Prystaiko did note that the crash sent debris over a large area, including residential areas, and that some fragments may have been lost as a result. He did not confirm rumors and photographs of Iranian bulldozers at the crash site spread on social media, saying “Our team which is on-site does not confirm these photographs, despite them being right at the place [where the crash occurred.]” He qualified the comment by saying that the Ukrainian team was located on the “site with the largest amount of fragments.”
Unlike officials from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., who had all stated that they had evidence that flight PS752 was shot out of the sky by Iranian missile attacks, the Ukrainian foreign minister refused to commit to that explanation.
“Colleagues, we as Ukraine – which lost its plane, lost crew, lost people...We aren’t looking for the easiest or most diplomatic path. We want to establish the truth. And for that we want to create an international coalition that will be conducting this investigation,” stated the minister.
He also refused to comment on ‘special information’ received from the U.S. embassy earlier that day, which he had mentioned in a tweet, and said that he is not leaning one way or the other to any theory, missile strike included. Videos of what appear to be missile strikes on PS752, verified by the New York Times and Bellingcat, were also not definitive, according to Prystaiko.
“We have so many different versions of what could have happened to the plane that we will need some time to understand and tell. We have not even started to reconstruct the black box information yet,” said Prystaiko. “...Don’t forget that we are the only nation on the ground with a very powerful team, right now.”
The minister, responding to a question from a journalist, also addressed criticism of Ukrainian International Airlines that said that the airline should have grounded all flights out of Tehran following the Iranian attack on a U.S. coalition base in Iraq.
“We analyzed today the corridor in which the plane was going, and the corridor from the international airport was 100% correct. So the plane was within the corridor, starting from the departure from the airport. There was nothing to indicate that the flight was endangered,” stated Prystaiko.
Additionally, Prystaiko said that Ukrainian experts have access to the bodies of the fallen, and that DNA-testing will allow at least the Ukrainian victims’ remains to be returned as quickly as possible, though he declined to provide a concrete timetable. Victims who were citizens of other countries will also undergo DNA testing, but the foreign minister noted that that process may take longer to establish.
As for cooperation with Iran, Prystaiko commented that the investigative team would like greater access, but that otherwise he was satisfied with the Iranian side’s action so far: “As always happens in these cases, the investigation team is not happy. They want more access, they want to have more rapid access, they want to have more info and so on. Whether these requests are justified is difficult to tell. As of right now we see that the pace with which the Iranian authorities are opening up possibilities for Ukraine is adequate [with regards to] what we expect.” He added that he was “not surprised” by Iranian officials blaming the crash on mechanical failure, saying it was a “natural reaction of all authorities.”
Prystaiko said that talks were continuing with the Iranians on a decision of where to analyze the black box, possibly the most important piece of equipment in post-crash analysis, as it contains the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, saying that it would be preferable to have the analysis done in Ukraine.
But, if the government does establish that it was in fact a missile strike that took down flight PS752, Prystaiko stated that “There is a whole legal procedure we will have to go through...We are considering the U.N. possibilities, in analogy to MH17, which crashed here, on Ukrainian territory, might come to mind,” referring to a Malaysian aircraft that was shot down by Russian occupying forces in 2014 over Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The investigation into the crash is ongoing.
/By Romeo Kokriatski