Iran repatriates bodies of Ukrainian victims of downed plane
Nine Ukrainian flight crew and two passengers were seen removed from an aircraft in Kiev in a solemn ceremony attended by President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk and other officials .
Ukraine International Airlines staff, some in tears, stood on the tarmac clutching flowers.
The Kiev-bound UIA Boeing 737, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board, mostly Iranian and Canadian citizens.
The Boeing crashed shortly after Iran launched missiles at US forces in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
Tehran admitted it had mistakenly shot down the plane several days later, triggering anti-government protests across the country.
On Saturday, Iran said it would be sending the black boxes from the downed Ukrainian passenger plane back to Ukraine, according to reports by the Tasnim news agency.
Tehran confirmed it was also prepared to allow French, Canadian and American experts to examine and analyse the data from jet, which was downed by Iran’s military last week, the semi-official news agency said.
“With the use of the expertise of the countries of France, Canada and America we will try to read the (flight data recorder) in Kiev,” Hassan Rezaifar, a director in charge of accident investigations at Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization was quoted as saying by Tasnim.
“If this effort is unsuccessful then the black box will be sent to France,” the official said, noting the black boxes will not be read in Iran.
The announcement came just hours after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday urged Iran to hand over black boxes from last week's downed airliner to France, saying it has one of the few laboratories capable of properly examining them.
"Iran does not have the level of technical expertise and mostly the equipment necessary to be able to analyse these damaged black boxes quickly," Trudeau said.
So, he told a press conference, "the right place to send those black boxes to get proper information from them and in a rapid way" is France, adding "that is what we're encouraging the Iranian authorities to agree to."
"There are only a few places, like France, that have laboratories that can do it," the prime minister explained.
France has offered its services and there is a "beginning of a consensus" to send the significantly damaged flight data and cockpit recorders from the downed Ukrainian airliner there, he said.
Earlier, Ukraine's foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said Iran was ready to hand over the black boxes to his country.
Prystaiko said Tehran would grant a team of investigators from Iran and Canada - as the countries that lost the most nationals - access to the recorders.
"After that, the Iranian side is ready to separately transfer the black boxes to Ukraine," he said.
Ottawa has said 57 of the passengers were Canadian citizens.
Trudeau said on Friday another 29 were permanent residents and that Canada was the final destination for 138 of the 176 passengers and crew on the Kiev-bound plane, including visitors and students.
After initial denials, Iran admitted it shot down the plane "unintentionally" while on high alert after firing missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a US drone strike.
In Ottawa, Trudeau also pledged interim funds for families of the Canadian victims of the crash, but said he ultimately expects Iran to pony up full compensation.
He said his government would provide Can$25,000 (US$19,000) to each family of the Canadian victims - both citizens and permanent residents - to assist with funeral arrangements, travel to Iran and other costs.
"I want to be clear: we expect Iran to compensate these families," Trudeau said.
But, he added, "I have met them and they can't wait weeks. They need support now."
No Canadian remains so far recovered from the crash have been repatriated. Trudeau said he expects the first to arrive in Canada "in the coming days."
Meanwhile in Oman, Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne had his first face-to-face meeting with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
According to a readout, Champagne pressed his counterpart to heed calls for a "thorough and transparent investigation" of the crash, and "full access" for Canadian officials to provide consular services and assist in victim identification.