Yesterday morning, a Boeing 737-800 of Ukraine International Airlines, operating flight PS752 to Kyiv, took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomenei airport. Around three minutes later, the aircraft, which was not yet four years old and had received a maintenance check last Monday, disappeared from radar screens and soon afterwards crashed in an area north of the airport. There was a large debris field. And there were no survivors.
Boeing 737-800 UR-PSR, the crash aircraft
As the BBC has reported, there are thousands of similar aircraft in service worldwide. Anyone who flies at all regularly will have flown on a 737-800: budget carrier Ryanair flies literally hundreds of that type. And one thought enters: aircraft of that age do not just fall out of the sky. They just don’t. Worse, there was no distress call, which means that, presumably, the Pilot Flying did not contact ATC to report a problem.
This suggests a sudden and catastrophic incident. An initial assertion of engine failure was soon withdrawn, and rightly so: a 737-800 could remain flying on one engine. Even a double engine failure would enable the pilot to glide the aircraft and put it down under sone kind of control. Now it is being asserted that there was an attempt to return to the airport. But the flight data shows the plane was climbing right up to the end of the trace.
And if there was no distress call, how can this conclusion be reached? It has been confirmed that both the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have been recovered intact, and although the Iranian authorities have decided they do not trust the USA, or even manufacturer Boeing, with their analysis, it should not be difficult to find someone - perhaps the French BEA could step in - who could do the job.
So what caused this catastrophic incident? Could it have been some kind of deliberate intervention? Well, if there was some sort of collision, the CVR might be expected to reveal a TCAS alert beforehand, an audible “Traffic!” followed by a command to either climb or descend. If none was made, that suggests one of three things: sudden structural failure (highly unlikely), a missile strike, or an explosive device on board.
In either of the two latter cases, the chance of a distress call being sent is not good, although the aircraft had not yet reached 8,000 feet and the effects of high-altitude decompression would not have occurred. And in both those cases, someone would know what happened, and that someone is keeping very quiet right now.
The first response of those in our free and fearless press who have chosen to cover the story has, predictably, been to suggest that The Iranians Must Have Done It. Hence the increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph telling readers “Iran under pressure to explain Tehran plane crash”. But the Iranians don’t really have a motive.
More than 80 of the country’s nationals were on board the flight. Iran, hobbled by US sanctions, depends on flights coming in from other countries to maintain international transport links. The country needs all the friends it can get in its continuing stand-off with an adversary commanded, ultimately, by Combover Crybaby Donald Trump.
Which means we come back to the initial premise: a four-year-old and well-maintained Boeing 737-800 does not just fall out of the sky. And the thoroughness of air crash investigation means the cause will be discovered - maybe sooner rather than later.
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