US fighter jet comes close to Iranian commercial plane, many passengers injured

Several passengers onboard an Iranian airline were injured over Syria after the pilot changed altitude to avoid collision with a US fighter jet, Iranian state media said.

Mahan Air heading from Tehran to Beirut on Thursday when the pilot staged a safety manoeuver. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the incident would be investigated.

IRIB news agency quoted a passenger describing how his head had hit the roof of the plane during the change in altitude, and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor.

“I don’t know what happened. A black plane came close to our plane and our plane lost its balance. I was sprung up and my head was banged against the ceiling,” the unnamed passenger told IRIB.

Another said: “It was a fighter jet. A fighter jet was literally sticking to our plane. We lost balance and bounced up and down.”

Most passengers left the plane with injuries, the head of the Beirut airport said.

The incident comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington, with ties deteriorating since 2018  when US President Donald Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and re-imposed sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.

F-16 Kept Safe Distance

The US military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said the F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian aircraft when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria where US forces are present.

Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the F-15 “conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of about 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) from the airliner this evening”.

“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel 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.”

He added the intercept was carried out in accordance with international standards.

Aircraft at that altitude are to maintain a distance of at least 600 metres (2,000 feet) to ensure they do not hit each other, though planes travelling that close together can encounter wake turbulence.

Data from the flight recorded by website showed the airliner climbed from 34,000 feet to 34,600 feet in under two minutes around the time of the incident, then dropped back down to 34,000 feet within a minute after.

US and Israel have long accused Mahan Air of transporting weapons to Iran-backed armed groups in Syria. In 2011, US imposed sanctions on Mahan Air saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.