“There was nothing to indicate the flight was in danger,” he said.
American officials have a high level of confidence that a Russian-made Iranian air defense system had fired two surface-to-air missiles at the plane minutes after it took off for Kyiv, one United States official has said. The jet had crashed hours after Iran fired ballistic missiles at American targets in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the leader of a powerful branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and was bracing for a possible American response.
But Iran’s failure to close its airspace and ground commercial planes was a key error, according to an American official. Some officials believe Iran may have left its airspace open to avoid telegraphing the precise timing of the airstrike, the official said.
Ali Abedzadeh, the chief of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, urged caution at a Friday news conference, saying that investigators could not determine anything about the cause of the crash until they analyzed data from the so-called black-box flight recorders. No missile hit the plane, he said, and it was likely on fire before it crashed.
But the Iranian air defense system used Wednesday is designed to explode near aircraft, creating shrapnel that takes a plane out of the sky, rather than directly hitting it. And footage verified by The New York Times appears to show a missile fired from Iranian territory exploding near where the jet crashed.
State television in Iran aired footage that it said showed two black boxes recovered from the crash site. Processing their data could take more than a month, and the investigation could take up to two years, Hassan Rezaeifar, the head of the Iranian investigation team, said during the news conference.
Normally, Iran has the capacity to download black-box data, but Mr. Rezaeifar said that the devices were damaged, making it difficult to extract information.
“We need special software and hardware which are available in our country, but if we fail to extract the data due to the damages of the black box, we will get help from other countries,” he said, noting that Ukraine, France, Canada and Russia have all expressed willingness to help.