Transportation safety board wants answers in Iran plane crash, chair says

Canadian investigators expected to get access to crash site near Tehran and remains of the plane

B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn, right to left, and B’nai Brith Senior Legal Counsel David Matas are joined by Iranian-Canadian community leaders Avideh Motmaen-Far and Reza Banai as they hold a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Canadian air-crash investigators are being given access to the wreckage and have been tapped to help unlock the contents of the data recorders from a Ukraine International Airlines plane downed by an Iranian missile last week.

The two investigators are to get their first chance to visit the crash site outside of Tehran on Tuesday, as part of an international team looking into the sequence of events that ended with Flight PS752 shot out of the sky, killing all 176 people on board.

The victims include 57 Canadians, as well as dozens more who were en route to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says they would all be safely back in Canada if tensions between Iran and the United States had not escalated recently.

“I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” Trudeau said in an interview Monday with Global News, noting that in any conflict “it is always the innocent who get sideswiped.”

The aircraft was shot down just hours after Iran launched air strikes against two military bases in Iraq where U.S. forces — and also some Canadians — are stationed. The air strikes were in retaliation for a Jan. 3 targeted drone strike by the U.S. that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

Trudeau said he’s spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump about the need to de-escalate tensions. He also confirmed that the U.S. gave Canada no heads up that it was planning a strike against Soleimani, something Trudeau said he “obviously” would have preferred.

Kathy Fox, the head of the Transportation Safety Board, said Monday afternoon she expects Canadian investigators will have access to the remains of the plane that are being reconstructed elsewhere, with Iran leading the investigation under international rules.

She added that TSB investigators have been asked about their technical expertise in downloading data from the flight recorders, known as “black boxes,” which were damaged in the incident.

The access to the wreckage and possibly the data recorders is more than the minimum Canadians are allowed under international rules that guide such investigations, with Fox calling Iran’s level of co-operation encouraging.

Still, Fox said she would be pushing those boundaries to ensure answers for families of the 57 Canadians on board.

She also warned that the TSB will speak out if it believes the probe isn’t complete and transparent.

“We all want answers and sharing information is a cornerstone of trust,” Fox said. “The world deserves to know how and why events unfolded as they did.”

After initially denying it shot down the Ukraine airliner, Iran admitted over the weekend that one of its own surface-to-air missiles took down the Boeing 737-800, but called it a horrible mistake.

The Canadian Press has independently confirmed at least 86 victims with ties to Canada, many of them students and professors returning after spending the December break visiting relatives in Iran.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted Monday afternoon that Iran has approved all the needed visas for Canadian consular officials who are helping grieving families in Iran.

Later Monday, his office announced he is travelling to London for a meeting of the international co-ordination and response group for the families of those who died in the crash. The meeting, to be held Thursday, involves Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom and is expected to include a discussion of how families and loved ones should be compensated.

The Canadian Press

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