KIEV/DUBAI, Feb 3 (Reuters) – A leaked audio recording of an Iranian pilot talking to the control tower in Tehran shows that Iran knew immediately it had shot down a Ukrainian airliner last month, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
On the recording, which was played on a Ukrainian television station late on Sunday, the pilot of another plane apparently in the air at the time when Iran shot down Ukraine International Airways flight 752 can be heard saying: “Is this an active area? There’s lights like a missile.”
Tehran blamed the Ukrainian authorities for leaking what it described as confidential evidence, and said it would no longer share material with Ukraine from the investigation into the crash.
All 176 people aboard the flight were killed when the plane crashed shortly after takeoff en route from Tehran to Kiev on Jan. 8.
After denying blame for three days, Iran acknowledged shooting it down, saying it done so by mistake while under high alert, hours after it had fired at U.S. targets in retaliation for a U.S. strike that killed an Iranian general.
In a television interview, Zelenskiy said the leaked audio “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane had been hit by a missile”.
“He says that ‘it seems to me that a missile is flying’, he says it in both Persian and English, everything is fixed there,” Zelenskiy said.
The Iranian official in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization criticised Ukraine for releasing the recording.
“The technical investigation team of the Ukrainian airline crash, in a strange move, published the secret audio file of the communications of a pilot of a plane that was flying at the same time as the Ukrainian plane,” Hassan Rezaifar said, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
“This action by the Ukrainians led to us not sharing any more evidence with them.”
In the recording, a pilot for Aseman, an Iranian airline, can be heard radioing the control tower that he has seen what he believes is a missile.
“Is this an active area? There’s lights like a missile. Is there anything?” the pilot says.
“Nothing has been reported to us. What’s the light like?” the controller replies. The pilot says: “It’s the light of a missile.”
The control tower can be heard trying and failing to raise the Ukrainian airliner on the radio. The pilot of the Iranian plane then says he has seen “an explosion. In a very big way, we saw it. I really don’t know what it was.”
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh Editing by Peter Graff)