Iran must conduct an independent probe into plane atrocity: Experts

Rescue teams at the scene of a Ukrainian airliner that crashed shortly after take-off near Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran. (Photo: AFP)

Iran must conduct an independent investigation into the attack on Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, even after it admitted to committing the atrocity, to ensure the whole truth is known, experts tell Al Arabiya English.

Iranian officials, who spent three days lying about the cause of the disaster and denying that their own armed forces shot the plane out of the sky minutes after taking off from Tehran’s main airport, finally admitted responsibility on Saturday.

An independent investigation to establish the exact sequence of events is important to answer questions about who ordered the attack, which killed all 176 people on board, and on what basis they considered it appropriate to fire on a civilian airliner, said expert John Blaxland, a professor of international security and intelligence studies at Australian National University.

However, an independent and credible examination may now be impossible because the Iranian government reportedly cleared and bulldozed the area. CBS reported that Iran cleared away most of the debris at the site, despite the fact that Ukrainian investigators had not yet arrived to inspect it.

Such behavior, if confirmed by independent investigators, would constitute tampering with the evidence, according to retired US Navy veteran Captain Chuck Nash.

“One of the things you don’t do is disturb the wreckage, because that is crucial to telling you what happened. You have to look at the debris pattern,” said Nash, who worked on nine different aircraft carriers as a naval aviator and served in the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.

Iran’s handling of the black boxes also appears to contravene international standards. Soon after they were found, Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization said: “We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help.”
Best practice would suggest the black boxes are analyzed by independent international experts including the aircraft manufacturer Boeing and the US independent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Expert Vann Hipp of American Defense International said there are “some indications the Iranians may have already opened the black boxes on their own, without waiting for the experts from Boeing and the NTSB and without having access to the correct analysis software.”

Justice for the victims

Now that Iran admitted to shooting down the aircraft, saying it mistook the plane for a “hostile target,” the families of those 176 killed can pursue justice.

On board the flight were 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, and other passengers from Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Germany, and the UK.

“Absolutely there will be some kind of legal action taken and then Iran will try to settle with everyone,” said Nash.

The victims’ families will be eligible for financial compensation from the airline under aviation law, specifically the Montreal Convention, Canada’s news outlet The Global and Mail reported citing expert opinion.

“Under the Montreal Convention, an airline is required to pay whatever damages a victim’s family can prove – which can vary based on the age and financial situation of each person – without any discussion of fault, up to a maximum of about $230,000. If the family can prove damages above that amount, the airline is required to pay the additional amount unless it can prove that it was not negligent,” said Joe Fiorante, a Vancouver-based lawyer who has practiced aviation law, in an interview with The Global and Mail.

However Blaxland said the party that caused the incident, namely Iran, should pay recompense.

“That means the government of Iran is on the hook for massive compensation payouts. Canada, Ukraine, the European nations affected, the United States, and others should be demanding this,” said Blaxland.

There is a historic precedent for how families of the victims can pursue justice in this type of situation, set by Iran.

In July 1988 Iran’s Air Flight 655 was downed accidently over the Strait of Hormuz by a missile fired from a US warship, killing all 290 people on board. The plane had been incorrectly identified as a fighter jet, rather than a passenger plane.

At the time Iranian authorities filed a lawsuit against the US. A settlement was reached in 1996, with the US paying $61.8 million to the victim’s families.

“When the US accidently shot down an Iranian air flight in 1988, the Iranians insisted on restitution from the US government to the families of those who were killed,” said Nash.

Nash added that the countries whose citizens were killed in the crash could implement sanctions against Iran, following in the footsteps of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

In the meantime, some countries responded by banning their carriers from traveling to Iran. Nash said it was up to individual countries to decide whether to ban their carriers from flying to Iran.

The downing of the Ukrainian flight came just hours after Iran carried out missile strikes against US military and coalition forces in Iraq, which caused no casualties.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:57 - GMT 06:57
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