U.S. Officials Believe Plane Crash That Killed 176 Was Shot by Iran Missile: Reports
Investigators previously said that the plane was “on fire” when it crashed early Wednesday morning
United States officials believe that the fatal plane crash in Iran on Wednesday was caused after the flight was mistakenly shot down by an Iranian missile, multiple outlets report.
According to CBS News, U.S. satellites detected two surface-to-air missile launches that occurred shortly before the plane exploded. Missile components were apparently found near the location of the crash, a source who was inside an intelligence briefing told CBS News. The crash occurred just hours after Iran had launched missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house U.S. troops.
Newsweek reported that the plane is believed to have been struck by an anti-aircraft missile system, but two unnamed officials told the outlet that the Pentagon believes the incident was accidental.
Sources told Newsweek that Iran’s anti-aircraft missile systems were likely active after their attack on the military bases in Iraq.
CNN reported that Iranian troops may have mistakenly believed they were under attack in the tense hours following their strike on the military bases. (Iran’s strike came after President Donald Trump ordered an airstrike in Iraq that killed the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani.)
According to CBS News, Iran has refuted the allegations.
The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
According to the BBC, Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization chief Ali Abedzadeh previously said that the plane — which was bound for Ukraine and went down shortly after takeoff — was “on fire” and crashed while it was attempting to return to the airport.
Abedzadeh reportedly added that the pilots had not made any distress calls before heading back to the airport.
Iranian officials had previously said that the plane likely crashed due to technical difficulties, according to The Wall Street Journal, but Ukrainian investigators hadn’t ruled out other possibilities.
The aircraft had 167 passengers and nine crew members on board, Ukraine International Airlines — which operated Wednesday’s flight — previously confirmed to PEOPLE. The flight left the Tehran International Airport around 6:00 a.m. local time and was bound for Ukraine.
According to CNN, a tweet from Ukrainian foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko said that 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals died in the crash.
The plane involved in Wednesday’s crash was a Boeing 737-800 jet, not the Boeing 737 MAX plane that was was grounded in March 2019 after two fatal crashes in less than five months. According to Ukraine International Airlines, the aircraft involved in the crash was built in 2016 and its last scheduled maintenance took place on Monday.
In a statement to PEOPLE on Wednesday, Boeing said: “This is a tragic event and our heartfelt thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand by them in this difficult time. We are ready to assist in any way needed.”