Iranian investigators have said an initial probe into the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 found the aircraft experienced a problem on take-off and was “on fire”.

The plane went down shortly after take-off from Tehran’s airport, killing all 176 people on board. The cause of the accident was not immediately apparent, with no distress calls made prior to the crash and the aircraft having completed its latest scheduled maintenance just one day before it crashed.

Now Ali Abedzadeh, chief of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAOI), has said the plane was trying to return to the airport after experiencing a “problem” before it went down.

“The plane, which was initially headed west to leave the airport zone, turned right following a problem and was headed back to the airport at the moment of the crash,” he said.

Abedzadeh also said witnesses reported seeing the plane “on fire” before it crashed, though he confirmed the pilots did not make a distress call.

Oleksiy Danylov, secretary of Ukraine’s security council, said investigators wanted to search for possible debris from a missile of the crash site.

The accident happened on the same night Iran launched a ballistic attack on US military bases in Iraq in retaliation for the government-ordered killing of its top general Qasem Soleimani.

Danylov said the security council is examining a number of potential causes for the crash, including an anti-aircraft missile strike, a mid-air collision, an engine explosion, or an explosion inside the plane, perhaps carried out by a terrorist.

He also said the investigation would include help from experts who worked on the inquiry into the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Iranian officials yesterday said they would not hand the plane’s black box recovered from the crash site to Boeing or the US, though the initial findings of the investigation have been given both parties, as well as Sweden and Canada, which both had nationals on the flight.

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