Iran backtracks on decision to send flight recorders to Ukraine

Candlelit vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash in Tehran, Iran Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

The official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian plane shot down by Iran has appeared to backtrack on plans to send the black boxes abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kyiv.

Hassan Rezaeifer, the head of accident investigations for the civil aviation department, had said on Saturday the flight recorders could not be read in Iran, so they would be sent to Kyiv, where French, American and Canadian experts could analyse them.

However in an apparent u-turn, he was quoted by the state-run Tasnim news agency as saying: “The flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out."

He said Iran was working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders – commonly known as black boxes – to Ukraine or France. “But as of yet, we have made no decision.”

Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but usable.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leads Friday prayers at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran. Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

Iran's Revolutionary Guard's air defences shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.

Hours earlier, the guard had launched ballistic missiles at two US bases in Iraq in response to the US air strike that killed Iran’s top general in Baghdad.

Officials say lower-level officers mistook the plane for a retaliatory US cruise missile.

Iranian officials initially said the crash was caused by a technical problem and invited countries that lost citizens to help investigate.

Three days later, it admitted responsibility after Western leaders said there was strong evidence the plane was hit by a surface-to-air missile.

The plane was shot down by Iran shortly after taking off from Tehran. Credit: AP

The victims included 57 Canadian citizens as well as 11 Ukrainians, 17 people from Sweden, four Afghans and four British citizens, but most of those killed were Iranians.

The other five nations have demanded Iran accept full responsibility and pay compensation to the victims’ families.

The plane was a Boeing 737-800 that was designed and built in the US.

The plane’s engine was designed by CFM International, a joint company between French group Safran and US group GE Aviation.

Investigators from both countries have been invited to take part in the probe.