By Sharon Marris and Andy Hayes, news reporters
Iran did not shoot down a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed near Tehran, the country’s ambassador to the UK has told Sky News.
Hamid Baeidinejad also questioned the “validity” of footage appearing to show a missile hitting the Boeing jet.
Asked about video of bulldozers said to show the crash site being cleared – obtained by US TV, he said such claims were “absolutely absurd”.
He said: “Plane accidents are a very technical issue.
“I cannot judge, you cannot judge, reporters on the ground cannot judge. Nobody can judge. A foreign minister or a prime minister cannot judge on this issue.”
Iran airs footage of purported black boxes
Officials in the UK, US, Canada and Australia have said a missile strike is the most likely explanation for Wednesday’s disaster, which killed 176 people, and that it may have been unintentional.
But Mr Baeidinejad said Iran was “confident from our side that there has been no missile launched in that area at that time”.
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In addition to existing intelligence, the video appears to show the moment the aircraft was hit by a missile – thought to be a Russian-made TOR anti-aircraft device.
But Mr Baeidinejad warned against reaching snap conclusions.
“We should be very careful about not judging on such videos when we don’t know about their validity,” he said.
Video appears to show missile striking plane
The plane came down hours after Iran launched a series of ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq to avenge the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani.
The country has challenged Western leaders to prove a missile was to blame.
“What is obvious for us, and what we can say with certainty, is that no missile hit the plane,” said the head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation, Ali Abedzadeh.
“If they are really sure, they should come and show their findings to the world.”
Tehran has described claims that one of its missiles hit the jet as “psychological warfare”.
Iran: First video of plane wreckage emerges
Analysis of the flight recorders – due to begin on Friday – could take more than a month, according to the head of the Iranian investigation team, Hassan Rezaeifar.
Help from international experts may be requested if extracting the information proves difficult, he added.
“We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help,” Mr Abedzadeh said.
The French air accident investigation authority said Iran had invited it to join the investigation.
Ukraine’s foreign minister said he and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had met US embassy officials on Friday and obtained “important data” about the crash.
Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the crash site.
The entire investigation could stretch into next year.
Image: Images of a Russian-made missile are circulating online
Everyone on board was killed when the Ukraine International Airlines jet crashed minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Among the dead were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and four Britons.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference: “We have intelligence from multiple sources, including our allies and our own intelligence.
“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. This may well have been unintentional.”
Similar statements were made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and US President Donald Trump.
Image: Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 with the registration UR-PSR
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has called for a “full and transparent investigation”.
The Foreign Office updated its travel advice, warning Britons against all travel to Iran as well as travel to, from and within the country.
The warning added: “Tension between Iran and other countries could escalate rapidly” and “anger inside Iran is high” following the killing of Maj Gen Soleimani.
“There is a possibility of an increased threat against Western interests and the security situation could worsen with little warning.”
Trudeau: Iran shot down the plane
In new footage, a ball of fire can be seen coming from left to right – said to be the missile – and the plane is seen more clearly coming from the opposite direction.
A few seconds later an explosion can be heard.
Sky News defence and security correspondent Alistair Bunkall said the video appeared to be authentic after it was verified by the New York Times and analysed by investigative journalism website Bellingcat.
He said Western intelligence agencies were “pretty convinced that this aircraft was shot down”.
“What they don’t know is whether it was deliberate or not,” he continued.
“The working assumption at the moment is that it was an accident and the reason for that is that, of the 176 on board, 82 are Iranians.
“So there’s no obvious reason this would be done deliberately… so the feeling was this probably was a tragic accident.”
The Ukrainian passenger plane hits the ground
The video is the latest apparently showing the incident.
In another, the Boeing 737 is seen exploding into flames as it tumbles from the sky and crashes into a distant field.
In a third, the plane can be seen on fire for several seconds before exploding mid-air and finally bursting into flames as it comes down.
CCTV footage on a dark lane near the crash site is also believed to have captured the passenger plane hitting the ground.
The screen turns white as it crashes before the surrounding area is engulfed in flames – smoke and debris flying in all directions.
Source : Sky News