'Highly likely' Iran shot down Ukrainian airliner that killed 176 people, U.S. officials say — and probably an accident

U.S. intelligence officials are telling news agencies today they are confident that Iran painted the Ukrainian airliner with radar, then fired two surface to air missiles that brought down the aircraft, killing all 176 people aboard.

It's a working theory, but based on satellite and other signals and human intelligence.

The U.S. officials quoted anonymously say they believe the downing of the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752, which happened during a time of peak tensions between Iran and the United States after Trump's assassination of top general Qasem Soleimani, was accidental.

The U.S. intelligence official says satellite data shows the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 bound for Kyiv was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran, when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.

That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, the official said. Heat signature data then showed the plane on fire as it went down.

Iran's head of civil aviation was quoted by ISNA News Agency as saying that it was "impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane."

Two U.S. officials said Washington believed the downing of the plane, which occurred at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the United States, was accidental.

An Iranian report on Thursday cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

More from Reuters.

PHOTO by LLBG Spotter, Ukraine International Airlines B738, UR-PSR, TLV. CC BY-SA 2.0