As tensions between the US and Iran enter a new phase and political leaders exchange heated rhetoric, as ever, ordinary people are the ones who suffer. On Wednesday, Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 caught fire and crashed minutes after take-off at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport. None of the 176 passengers and crew members survived, leaving their families in Iran, Canada, Afghanistan and Europe shocked and bereaved.
While the loved ones of the victims are trying to make sense of it all, Iranian authorities have added to their grief by politicising this tragedy, which happened hours after Tehran launched rockets on US targets in Iraq. The incident was immediately attributed to mechanical failure by Iranian authorities, even before an investigation was launched. Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation retrieved two black box flight recorders but has so far refused to hand over the data to Boeing, the manufacturer of the plane, or to the US, stating that Tehran alone will carry out an investigation but that Ukrainian authorities may be present.
Tehran has already decided to treat this crash not as a human tragedy but as a political tool amid rising tension. This raises questions about whether an investigation led solely by Iran will be truly transparent and bring bereaved families the answers they seek. Kiev has announced that it will conduct its own probe into what will be remembered as the national airliner’s first crash.
While it is customary for countries where crashes have occurred to lead the investigations, very few nations have the expertise required to see them through. This is why they are often joint efforts, usually involving the US and Europe, given that they own Boeing and Airbus respectively, the two leading aircraft manufacturers in the world.
However, with each country conducting a separate investigation into the Tehran airport tragedy, and experts from Boeing denied access to crucial data about the crash, the investigation process is likely to be slowed down and fall prey to a show of political arm-wrestling. This means that the families of the victims will have to wait longer to know the truth about the deaths of their loved ones, a heart-breaking prospect that should be avoided at all costs.
Bereaved families deserve to know the truth about the fate of flight PS752. It will only serve Iran's interests to come clean and clarify the situation for the mourning families. The investigation should not be used for one-upmanship in the ongoing regional standoff. Iran must hand over data from the black box to Boeing and accommodate investigators from Ukraine and countries with the right expertise. The families of the victims and concerned travellers the world over will be anxiously awaiting the results.