WASHINGTON — An Iranian missile accidentally brought down a Ukrainian jetliner over Iran this week, killing everyone aboard, American and allied officials said on Thursday, adding a tragic coda to the escalated military conflict between Washington and Tehran.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said his country had intelligence that an Iranian surface-to-air missile brought down the jetliner, which was carrying 63 Canadians among its some 176 passengers and crew. Mr. Trudeau said his conclusion was based on a preliminary review of the evidence but called for a full investigation “to be convinced beyond all doubt.”
“We recognize that this may have been done accidentally,” Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa. “The evidence suggests very clearly a possible and probable cause for the crash.”
United States officials had a “high level of confidence” that the Iranians brought down the airliner by mistake, one American official said. The official said that two missiles fired from an Iranian air defense system, the SA-15, shot down the airliner.
The Ukrainian airliner, a Boeing 737-800, went down on Wednesday morning. It had turned back toward the Tehran airport before it crashed in a huge explosion minutes after takeoff, according to an initial Iranian report released on Thursday. The report said that the plane, bound for Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, was in flames before it hit the ground but did not send a distress signal.
Although both the United States and Iran now appear to be backing away from a larger military confrontation, the new intelligence suggests that the loss of life from the downing of the plane was a direct result of those heightened tensions between the countries.
American satellites, designed to track missile launches, detected the firing of the Iranian short-range interceptor. United States intelligence agencies later intercepted Iranian communications confirming that the SA-15 system brought down the Ukrainian airliner, officials said.
A security camera captured the impact — first the predawn darkness, then a series of blinding bursts of light in the distance, followed by a storm of burning debris in the foreground.
The circumstances of the disaster raised suspicions that the airliner was brought down by a missile. The crash occurred just hours after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles at United States targets in Iraq, with Tehran presumably bracing for possible American retaliation.