LONDON (AP) — In the pitch black, pre-dawn sky on the outskirts of the Iranian capital Tehran, a tiny fast-moving light can be seen racing up through the trees, as someone films from the ground. Then there is a flash of light as it seems to collide with something in the air.
It is the ill-fated Ukrainian International airliner which had taken off Wednesday just hours after Iran had fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq in retaliation for the slaying of its top military man, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Western leaders have said the plane seemed to have been unintentionally brought down by a surface-to-air missile near Tehran. Iran denies that a missile was to blame.
Videos verified by The Associated Press show the final seconds of the jet and what likely brought it down, killing all 176 people on board.
One video seems to show the impact. Buildings can seen from ground level below the darkened sky as the tiny light arches upward, then the flash. The scene is silent, except for a dog barking nearby. Then 10 seconds later, there is a frightening boom, like loud thunder.
A second video appears to show the plane on fire and crashing. A white blaze plummets downward across the black sky, sometimes letting off sparks. Then it disappears behind trees, and a huge fireball lights up the sky as it hits the earth.
Someone off-camera says in Farsi “The plane has caught fire. Shahriar. Ferdosieh. In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful. God please help us. Call the fire department!” The names are two suburbs of Tehran near the airport.
Another clip, filmed from inside a traveling car at distance, shows a pinpoint fiery light moving at speed. This footage then shows the plane exploding far on the horizon, illuminating the darkened sky.
As part of the verification process, the AP compared buildings in view with map locations and in the precise context of where the jet went off the radar.
The Western allegation that Iran shot down a Ukrainian jetliner offers a grim echo for the Islamic Republic, which found itself the victim of an accidental shootdown by American forces over 30 years ago.
The July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. Navy remains one of the moments the Iranian government points to in its decades-long distrust of America. They rank it alongside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that toppled its elected prime minister and secured Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s absolute power until he abdicated the throne before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
As recently as last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani referenced the attack in criticizing President Donald Trump's comments that U.S. forces had picked out 52 targets to be attacked in Iran if needed, one for each of the American hostages held after the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover.
“Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290. #IR655,” Rouhani wrote on Twitter. “Never threaten the Iranian nation.”
Associated Press journalist Nadia Ahmed in London contributed to this report.