Iran announced that it accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jetliner that crashed on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard.
The crash occurred just minutes after taking off from the Iranian capital's main airport, turning farmland on the outskirts of Tehran into fields of flaming debris and killing all on board.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard aerospace division said his unit accepts "full responsibility" for the shootdown, The Associated Press reports.
A statement released on Saturday morning blames "human error" for the incident, adding that the military misinterpreted Flight 752 for a "hostile target".
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that the country "deeply regrets this disastrous mistake".
"My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences," he said, adding that "investigations continue to identify and prosecute this great tragedy and unforgivable mistake".
Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people.
Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake. #PS752
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 11, 2020
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed his "deep sympathy" to the families of the victims and called on the armed forces to "pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident."
The crash of Ukraine International Airlines came hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. soldiers, but both Ukrainian and Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical issue brought down the Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
The plane had been delayed from taking off from Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It took off to the west, but never made it above 8,000 feet in the air, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted "A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces: Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster."
A sad day. Preliminary conclusions of internal investigation by Armed Forces:
Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster
Our profound regrets, apologies and condolences to our people, to the families of all victims, and to other affected nations.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) January 11, 2020
The aircraft, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, when it was shot down.
"This is the right step for the Iranian government to admit responsibility and it gives people a step toward closure with this admission," said Payman Parseyan, an Iranian-Canadian in western Canada who lost several friends in the crash.
"I think the investigation would have disclosed it whether they admitted it or not. This will give them an opportunity to save face," Parseyan added.