The Ukrainian crew operating the Ukraine International Airlines plane that was shot down by an Iranian missile on Jan. 8 didn’t do anything out of normal and didn’t receive any warnings of possible danger from the Tehran airport, according to Yevhen Dykhne, the airline’s president.

The Ukrainian airline’s management accepted Iran’s acknowledgment that it shot down the passenger plane by mistake with relief, saying that it proves that the crash wasn’t caused by a plane malfunction or the crew’s error.

“From the very start, we have been confident that there could not be a pilot’s mistake or technical failure of the plane,” Dykhne said at a press briefing on Jan. 11. “We checked everything and came to the conclusion that there must have been an external factor.”

Earlier on Jan. 11, an Iranian general said that the operators of the missile complex that shot down the plane had earlier asked to close the airspace in the area. Yet Dykhne said, citing the company’s representatives investigating the crash in Iran, that the crew didn’t receive any warnings and followed the instructions of the Tehran airport air traffic controllers.

“There was nothing new for the crew performing the flight on that day,” Dykhne said. “It was the most usual flight. They were leaving the airport area in accordance with permission of the air traffic controller. After the takeoff they had communications (with air traffic controllers). In absolutely calm voice they notified of the takeoff, received further permission to perform the flight and strictly followed the instruction of the air traffic controller.”

Dykhne also said that the Jan. 8 flight followed exactly the same route as always, with no deviations.

Yevhen Dykhne, president of Ukraine International Airlines, speaks during a press conference at Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv on Jan. 8, 2020. Earlier that day, the airline’s Boeing 737 plane crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran. All 176 passengers on board were killed. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Before the Ukrainian plane was shot down, several European airlines, including Air France, KLM, and LOT, rerouted their flights to bypass the territory of Iran following its tensions with the U.S. But the airlines that flew to Tehran continued to do so even after the crash, only stopping the flights when Western governments said the plane was shot down by a missile.

When asked why Ukraine International Airlines continued flying to Tehran despite tensions in the region, Dykhne said that neither Ukraine nor Iran issued any warnings regarding civilian flights.

“The pilots did not know anything and they could not know, because there were no warnings,” Dykhne said. “The airport was working as usual. Knowing about who shoots where is not the business of civilian pilots.”

Ihor Sosnovsky, vice president in charge of flight operations, said that Iran should have shut the airport when it attacked U.S. bases in Iraq that night.

“They were being completely irresponsible,” Sosnovsky said. “If you are playing war, you can play it as much as you want. But all around are normal people who have to be protected. They had to close the airport if they were shooting somewhere from some place. They were obliged (to do so). And then they can shoot as much as they want.”

Dykhne and Sosnovsky said that the airline will not change its approach to safety when flying in the dangerous zones because “it is excellent already.”

Ukraine International Airlines will “continue working as usual,” according to Dykhne. Financially, the crash will not have a drastic effect on the company. It was the first lethal crash in the company’s 27-year history.

I am sure that the company will grow stronger psychologically,” Dykhne said. “And we will value and love our staff more than before.

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