“Even in the statement of Iran there is a hint that our crew was acting independently, or that it could have acted differently,” said the airline director, Yevhenii Dykhne.
The crew received no warning before leaving Tehran, Ukrainian officials said. The plane took off as Ukrainian flights from Iran had dozens of times before, and followed the same departure routes as other airliners leaving that morning, Ihor Sosnovsky, the vice president for flight operations, told journalists.
“There was no deviation from any routes that some are hinting at,” he said.
The crew maintained normal radio contact with the tower in Tehran, he said, and followed a standard departure procedure for the airport. After having reached an elevation of 6,000 feet, they were instructed to make a slight northerly turn. In the last communication, he said, one of the pilots read back this instruction from the tower, saying “turn and climb.”
Addressing criticism that the airline should not have sent a plane to Iran at all, in light of tensions in the region, the airline officials said it was Iran’s responsibility to close airspace if it had intended to fire missiles.
Mr. Danilov said Iran had no choice but to admit to shooting down the plane because the facts had become apparent to Ukrainian experts on the ground and to the international community.
The “cherry on top” in Ukraine’s probe, he said, came on Friday evening Iran time, when Ukrainian investigators found fragments of the top part of the airplane cabin that had been pierced by what appeared to be the shrapnel of a missile warhead.
“As we saw it, Iran had to face the reality that there’s no way they’ll get out of this,” Mr. Danilov said.