A U.S. F-15 fighter jet conducted an in-air intercept and visual inspection of an Iranian airliner flying over Syria on Thursday.
In a statement provided to American Military News, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Capt. Bill Urban confirmed the intercept and said the U.S. fighter pilot flew at a distance of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from the Iranian airliner, Mahan Air, and moved away once it confirmed the airliner’s identity. Iran’s Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) News Agency claimed that passengers on the airliner were injured during the intercept flight, and blamed the U.S. for the injuries.
Mahan Air has been suspected in the past of transporting weapons on their airlines on behalf of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). In December 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions against the Iranian airline for the weapons smuggling behavior.
Footage from the cabin of the airliner and shared by IRIB News showed passengers screaming as the airliner made an evasive move.
“BREAKING. Released footage by #Iran‘s State TV shows Fighter jet flies close to Iranian airliner over Damascus, makes it reduce altitude. Some Sources say intruding fighter jet was Israeli, while others say it was US warplane. Passanger [sic] flight landed safely in Beirut airport,” a Twitter account posted, sharing the IRIB News video.
Released footage by #Iran‘s State TV shows Fighter jet flies close to Iranian airliner over Damascus, makes it reduce altitude.
Some Sources say intruding fighter jet was Israeli, while others say it was US warplane.
Passanger flight landed safely in Beirut airport. pic.twitter.com/uTUDC64k8y
— Iran_Newsroom (@Iran_NewsRoom) July 23, 2020
Further footage of the Thursday incident demonstrated the distance between the U.S. fighter jet and the Iranian airliner.
US fighter jets reportedly intercepted an #MahanAir passenger jet heading to #Beirut while it was in #Syrian airspace. The US has long suspected that #Iran smuggles weapons aboard those flights to Syria. @TheWarMonitor @Natsecjeff @Almatrafi @jihadi_threatpic.twitter.com/pCC7f620qg
— intelfeedia (@intelfeedia) July 23, 2020
Urban indicated the U.S. fighter pilot performed the intercept “in accordance with international standards” and said the intercept lasted as long as it took for the U.S. pilot to identify the Iranian airliner, which flew over a U.S.-coalition garrison known as At Tanf in Syria.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at At Tanf garrison,” Urban said. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft. The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”
Publicly available flight data for Mahan Air flight 1152, shared by Flightaware.com, shows the Iranian airliner descended around 14,000 feet in just four minutes after it passed over the At Tanf garrison airspace.
Aviation expert Steve Ganyard told ABC News the injuries appeared to be the result of an overreaction by the Iranian pilots, rather than any result of the U.S. fighter pilot’s actions. Ganyard said footage of the intercept appeared to show what would be considered an “ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) standard, visual identification of an unresponsive airliner flying through a combat zone by a fighter aircraft.”
Ganyard suggested that after seeing the fighter jet, the Iranian pilots executed “a dangerously aggressive descent that apparently injured several passengers.”