Iran Shot Down a Ukrainian Passenger Plane. Here's How it Happened. | Visual Investigations

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Iran Shot Down a Ukrainian Passenger Plane. Here's How it Happened. | Visual Investigations 5
Iranians have taken to the streets in protest after the government admitted, following three days of denials, that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet. Here’s everything we know about that seven-minute flight.

Whether it's reporting on conflicts abroad and political divisions at home, or covering the latest style trends and scientific developments, New York Times video journalists provide a revealing and unforgettable view of the world. It's all the news that's fit to watch.

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I’m one of the reporters that worked on this story. It was Tuesday night in New York when we learned that a plane had crashed near Tehran. Given the heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, our team was on high alert. Just four hours earlier, Iran had launched ballistic missiles at U.S. military targets in Iraq, in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed their a top military leader: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

In the early hours of such a horrific incident, our modus operandi is to collect as much material as possible, and then analyze it to answer one question: What happened? One of the main working theories was that there had been a mechanical failure, as was initially claimed by the Iranian authorities. But on Thursday, two days after the crash, we verified that a video we had obtained showed a missile hitting a plane around two miles from its last known transponder location. That changed the story. We’ve tried to condense all that information in the 4-minute video you’ve watched. You can always follow our most up-to-date work via Twitter, @trbrtc and @malachybrowne.

A big part of these kind of investigations is based on what the community shares. Whether that is videos showing the incident as it happens, images from the crash site or your analysis of what we’re seeing on the footage — whether that’s expert knowledge or just an eagle-eyed, anonymous internet user. Thank you for that.

You can watch more of our work on the Visual Investigations YouTube playlist, and subscribe to our channel for future investigations.

Author — Christiaan Triebert


These visual investigation videos should be released more often. They’re absolutely incredible.

Author — Abhishek Rao Chimbili


RIP to the 176 innocent people who died in that crash.

Author — Alon Kilci


I find it horrifying that the pilots were still flying the plane while it was on fire. Think about that for a minute. The plane crew and passengers were alive and on fire!

Author — Shawn Newell


The fact that it kept flying after it was hit.... those poor passengers. This is just atrocious

Author — Charlie B


The horror, the pain. I literally cannot imagine. This is heartbreaking. Every detail of it is searing.

Author — Jieyl Rodrigo


Thats just horrible.. imagine the horror these people went through when the plane got shot

Author — Bas


The question: why they allowed a civilian airport to function during a crisis. They should have suspended all flights for a day or two the moment they launched their missiles against Iraq.

Author — Duran


Paranoia and incompetence are a dangerous mix...

Author — Lovecraft


Looks like the pilot was trying to avoid residential area .

Author — Anouar Driouach


Iran would have claimed that it was “mechanical failure” if wasn’t of this footage. RIP to the ones who perished.

Author — NwebeLoLOCE


We need more of these visual investigation.

Author — Amorous Daisy


This is what happens when incompetent people are in charge of this F-ing world.

Author — LapajgoO


The cost of irresponsible actions by some are huge on the family members... Whether it's a war, strike or defence... Common people are the one who pay the most.

Author — Aditya VARDHANN


Iran mistook giant lumbering commercial flight from own airport as a cruise missile?
That is like hunting for cheetah and shooting an elephant in a zoo by mistake, whoopsie!!

Author — Roald %


The pilots tried everything they could to go back to the airport and I find that so heroic 😔

Author — hodan ali


Hi there, I'm the reporter who led the visual investigation of this dreadful event. This latest video reconstruction here has been updated with new information containing everything we now know about that horrific seven minute flight, and how it was downed by two Iranian missiles.

Behind the reporting: We began investigating what happened within an hour or so of the airliner disappearing late Tuesday night U.S. time. Our first step was to check flight data to see where its signal disappeared. Searching across social media in Farsi for reports from nearby towns, we found several witnesses reporting two explosions, and seeing an aircraft on fire before it crashed. We found videos people had uploaded describing it, but we waited to run with those because they were filmed in darkness, and we still didn't have the full facts.

Around three hours after it crashed, as day broke in Iran, my colleague Yousur al-Hlou spoke to a witness who filmed the crash site. As more images came in we confirmed where the plane came down: 10 miles away from the location where the last signal was sent. Analyzing those images, we could establish with certainty that the plane had turned around and was flying back toward Tehran international airport, before disintegrating over a large area several hundred meters long.

Why did the airliner come down? And what happened in the minutes since the signal was lost? Iranian officials denied it was shot down. Others reported a technical malfunction. But in the coming days a drip feed of evidence suggested that two missiles were fired while Iranian defenses were on high alert after American personnel at Iraqi bases were targeted in missile attacks earlier that night. On Thursday morning, western intelligence officials told our reporters that their sensors picked up two infrared blips from Iranian military sites, indicating that missiles had been launched. And on Thursday afternoon, as my colleague Christiaan Triebert was monitoring Iranian Telegram channels, a dark video with text across the screen emerged showing what looked like a missile hitting a plane. Could this be proof?

Christiaan quickly contacted the source and obtained a HD copy. I and the team began working to confirm the location - a technique called geo-location. We were familiar with the area having mapped it out in previous days using Google Earth. We knew the path of the plane across the area, and narrowed down the possible locations. We mind-mapped the features: a security cabin, a tall metal lamppost with cross sections, a row of distinctive and identical apartment buildings in the distance. We looked for those features on satellite imagery of Parand, the city over which the plane was flying when its signal dropped.

Finally, a satellite image showing the shadow of the lamppost with the metal cross sections confirmed the location ... the small security cabin was beside it and the row of buildings in the distance. And the camera was facing toward the path of the plane. We examined the footage frame by frame to ensure it wasn't manipulated, and we checked the sound. There was a 10 second delay between seeing the flash of the impact and hearing the sound of the explosion in the video. We knew the height and horizontal distance of the plane, and measured the distance from the camera by calculating the hypotenuse. We calculated how long the speed of sound takes to travel that distance, and it matched: roughly 10 seconds.

The video was real, and it was the first hard evidence that an Iranian missile downed the passenger jet. The following day, Iran's leaders confirmed this, and blamed "human error" amid heightened tensions. Further evidence emerged in the coming days that explained gaps in the story; new video proved that two missiles had hit the plane. Together with a community of specialists who do this kind of work on Twitter, my colleagues Evan Hill and Logan Mitchell again geo-located and verified the video. Along with other videos we and others, including Storyful, verified, we could reconstruct the timeline of this tragic event. This reconstruction was also created by my colleagues Drew Jordan (motion graphics), Ainara Tiefenthaler (editing and scripting) and Whitney Hurst (senior producing).

Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of loved ones lost.


Author — Malachy Browne


I had goose bumps when they said the plane kept on flying while inflames. I don't even want to imagine the agony. Poor people.

Author — Pepins Spot


It doesn’t make sense that they didn’t know a plane was entering their airspace. Especially during an attack.

Author — Sunny Solar


Iran: We didn’t do it, it’s scientifically impossible!

Next Day: ok, ok, ok it was us....our bad LMAO!

Author — Mr Davs