Was it a technical failure? Everything that is known (and what is not) about the crashed Ukrainian plane

Was it a technical failure? Everything that is known (and what is not) about the crashed Ukrainian plane
Remains of the crashed plane. (Reuters)

A Boeing 737 of the Ukraine International Airlines company with 176 passengers has crashed in Iran. There are no survivors. Doubts about what has really happened surround the accident

The problems never come alone and if the growing tension between the US and Iran was already a matter of concern, a new and unfortunate plane crash has further clouded this already complex situation. And it is not for less because, coinciding with the Iranian response attacking with missiles an American base, a Boeing 737 of the Ukraine International Airlines company, crashed near the Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport in circumstances that, at least, are suspicious. The result is 176 deceased people and a lot of confusion about it. And this time it is not a 737 MAX.

Flight PS752 of the Ukraine International Airlines company was to take off from the Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. It looked like it was going to be a routine flight when the plane took off after six in the morning. All normal with an important caveat, Iran had launched just a few hours earlier several land-to-ground missiles against two US military installations in Iraq.

What is known so far?

As always after a plane crash, everything that can be said is based on evidence or speculation, as long as an investigation is not carried out to determine the causes of it. But we have several data. The first is the plane itself, a Boeing 737-800, a modern aircraft, manufactured in 2016 and from which those responsible for the airline have rushed to claim that it had passed a review on January 6, just a few days ago. This is not a new case of the fateful Boeing 737 MAX so nothing would point, for now, to the model or design of the plane.

Another important fact is the information provided by the FlightRadar24 application. This application is a web page that provides real-time data of aeroplanes in flight, as well as their destinations and airports through which they pass. It is based on collecting information from aircraft transponders when equipped with this ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) technology system. These are teams that obtain their position using GPS and permanently emit their speed, position and height data.

The application also tracked the PS752 flight and the data that has been verified is that the plane followed a normal take-off path until reaching 7,925 feet (2,415 m) at 06’14 hours (local time), at which time The signal disappears completely. That is, the plane (its transponder) suddenly stops emitting. At that time it was flying heading 312, northwest, at a speed of 275 knots (509 km / h) and in full ascent to 2,944 feet/minute.

Ukrain Plane Crash Update

The plane crashed shortly thereafter and Iranian emergency services attended, confirming the absence of survivors. Various images of plane wrecks scattered across the terrain have been seen over the area. The Ukrainian authorities initially said that the accident was due to a failure in one of the aircraft’s engines, although they subsequently eliminated that claim indicating that everything is speculation until an investigation is conducted and that any previous comment lacked official character. In addition, the Ukrainian government has banned all flights over the area, a fact that other companies have already joined, such as Air France, which has suspended all flights over Iraq and Iran.

A very revealing video has also been disseminated, which supposedly includes the last moments of the Ukrainian Boeing. In it, it looks like what looks like a plane engulfed in flames is losing height until, shortly after, crashing on the ground with a large flare.

Possible causes

The video, if its authenticity is confirmed, is quite enlightening and we will refer to it in several moments. First, there is talk of technical failure and engine failure, but there are several data that do not fit this hypothesis.

A fire in an engine is possible and is not a minor matter, but the Boeing is a twin-engine aircraft and all twin-engine aircraft are designed to continue flying with a single engine. If this had been the only problem, the pilot would have immediately reported the emergency and would have turned around to try to land at the airport. But from the moment the transponder signal is lost, according to the first information, there is also no communication from the pilots.

The video shows a major fire, but the plane has not exploded or falls uncontrolled in flames, apparently descends in more or less controlled flight until it crashes. At another time in the video, you can see what looks like explosions, as well as fragments of the plane that come off in flames. This is quite suspicious and could be due either to a serious fire in the cargo hold or directly to an internal explosion.

The transponder and communications failure is also very rare. Everything indicates that the plane ran out of energy, but a fire in an engine, even if it is severe, should not leave the plane that way, as it would have another engine and even the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) or unit of auxiliary power, which would have allowed it to have enough energy at least to communicate the emergency.

Unintentional demolition?

On the disaster of flight PS752, other circumstances are planned that are giving rise to all kinds of doubts about the real cause of it.

The first is whether there is a relationship between the Iranian missile attack and the accident of the Ukrainian plane. In this regard, two things must be indicated. The first is that it does not seem very responsible that, in a situation of conflict with a missile launch, the airspace is kept open, as it happened, and without any restriction. The second is that the Iranian attack probably occurred with short or medium-range missiles, as the US targets are not very far from the Iranian border, and have the famous Scud C missiles (with a range of 600 km) and others such as the Fateh-110 of similar scope.

In any case, the possibility that an ground-to-ground missile affects an aeroplane in flight, especially in the vicinity of an airport, is remote. Neither guidance systems can interfere with aircraft flight systems nor does the missile follow a path that could (a priori) establish a collision course. However, it is also speculating with other alternatives on the ‘downed’ airway. They range from the use of a ground-to-air missile, which could be, to the demolition by light anti-aircraft artillery. In this last sense, there are several images of the wreckage of the plane where damages in the structures that could be due to bullet impacts are appreciated. But there are also multiple authorized voices that point out that it is too early to ensure absolutely nothing regarding those holes in the fuselage.

Another fully viable theory given the facts is that, in the confusion of a state of military alert, an artillery battery confused the Ukrainian plane with an American military plane and opened fire. But it is also very possible that the damages that can be seen in the wreckage of the aircraft are precisely impacts of the damaged and burning engine parts themselves. At the moment, all the hypotheses are open and that is, in fact, the main conclusion: it is not yet possible to blame what happened to a technical or motor failure.

Nothing can be said with total certainty while the investigation is not carried out and in this matter, there will also be a certain conflict because, according to international law, there must be an investigation commission in which the operator’s status is members (Ukraine), the state where it happens (Iran) and the state of the manufacturer (USA). Iran has already said that it will not deliver the black boxes in an obvious sign of wanting to tense the environment. We will see how that investigation is carried out and what is the final result.

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Aakash Molpariya
Aakash started in Nov 2018 as a writer at Revyuh.com. Since joining, as writer, he is mainly responsible for Software, Science, programming, system administration and the Technology ecosystem, but due to his versatility he is used for everything possible. He writes about topics ranging from AI to hardware to games, stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. He is a trained IT systems engineer and has studied computer science. By the way, he is enthusiastic about his own small projects in game development, hardware-handicraft, digital art, gaming and music. Email: aakash (at) revyuh (dot) com