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Iran blames misaligned radar for 'human error' in downing of Ukrainian plane

Iran's civil aviation body releases new report into downing that led to the death of 176 people
Iranians in the capital Tehran walk past a poster honouring the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet accidentally shot down in January 2020(AFP)

A misaligned radar was responsible for the accidental downing of a Ukrainian jet in January, Iran said on Saturday, an incident that led to the death of all 176 people on board and public outrage in the country.

In a new report, the Iranian Civil Aviation Organization said it had been a fundamental "human error" that led to Flight 752 - a Ukraine International Airlines jetliner - being struck by two missiles shortly after taking off from Tehran's main airport on 8 January.

"A failure occurred due to a human error in following the procedure" for aligning the radar, causing a "107-degree error" in the system, said the CAO, which oversees civil aviation in Iran.

This error "initiated a hazard chain" that saw further errors committed in the minutes before the plane was shot down, said the CAO document, presented as a "factual report" and not as the final report on the accident investigation. 

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The CAO said that, despite the erroneous information available to the radar system operator on the aircraft's trajectory, he could have identified his target as an airliner, but instead there was a "wrong identification". 

The report also noted that the first of the two missiles launched at the aircraft was fired by a defence unit operator who had acted "without receiving any response from the Coordination Center" on which he depended.

The second missile was fired 30 seconds later, "by observing the continuity of trajectory of the detected target," the report added. 

Tehran's air defences had been on high alert at the time the jet was shot down in case the US retaliated against Iranian strikes hours earlier on American troops stationed in Iraq.

Those strikes were carried out in response to the killing of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport.

Iran's handling of the plane disaster sparked anti-government protests in Tehran, with many demanding the resignation and prosecution of those responsible for downing the plane and an initial cover-up.

Ottawa and Kiev have for months demanded that Iran, which does not have the technical means to decode the accident black boxes, send them abroad so their contents could be analysed. Sixty-three Canadians and 11 Ukrainian nationals were among those killed in the crash. 

Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Sunday urged Iran to ensure "a comprehensive and transparent investigation in accordance with international standards, so that all those responsible are held accountable". 

In late June, France's Accident Investigation Bureau (BEA) said Iran had "officially requested technical assistance" to retrieve the black box data and said work should begin on 20 July.

Champagne said Canada would continue to push "to ensure Iran follows through on its commitments" including transferring the data to the BEA.