THREE Britons are among 176 people to have died after a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed moments after take-off from Iran, officials have said.

Independent experts are throwing doubt on Iran's claims that the plane crashed due to a malfunction, with speculation that the plane was shot down. The Ukrainian embassy retracted its statement that the plane crashed, and has instead said it is up for an independent commission to investigate.

All 167 passengers and nine crew on the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 flight from Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran to the Ukrainian capital Kiev were killed minutes after take-off at 6.10am local time (2.40am GMT) on Wednesday.

The National:

The crash comes amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf following the killing last week of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by the US.

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran's Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared that a fire had started in one of the plane's engines.

The pilot then lost control of the plane, sending it crashing into the ground, Biniaz said, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

However, the OPS Group, an aviation monitoring group, have published a report suggesting the possibility that the plane was shot down.

It described "obvious projectile holes in the fuselage and a wing section ... whether that projectile was an engine part, or a missile fragment is still conjecture".

The National:

READ MORE: Iran launches ballistic missiles at US bases in Iraq

Some 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 people from the Ukraine, nine of whom were crew members, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans were on board the flight along with three Britons, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

He said: "Terrible news about the plane crash in Tehran. My sincere condolences to the families of the dead."

Rescue crews said they did not expect to find survivors.

The airline said it had suspended flights to Tehran until further notice.

The National:

A spokesman said: "Today, on January 8, 2020, a Ukraine International Airlines aircraft while operating flight PS752 from Tehran to Kyiv disappeared from the radars a few minutes after departure from Tehran International Airport.

"The aircraft departed from Tehran International Airport at 06:10hrs. Iran local time.

"According to preliminary data, there were 167 passengers and 9 crew members on board.

"UIA representatives are currently clarifying the exact number of passengers on board.

"The airline expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims.

"With immediate effect, UIA has decided to suspend its flights to Tehran until further notice."

The National: Flight tracking information from Flightradar24 and Google shows where the plane lost communicationFlight tracking information from Flightradar24 and Google shows where the plane lost communication

READ MORE: President's tweet indicates Iran was to blame for Lockerbie bombing

The airline said the aircraft was a 737-800, built in 2016. A number of 737-800 models have been involved in deadly accidents over the years.

In March 2016, a FlyDubai 737-800 from Dubai crashed while trying to land at Rostov-on-Don airport in Russia, killing 62.

A 737-800 flight from Dubai, operated by Air India Express, crashed in May 2010 while trying to land in Mangalore, India, killing more than 150 people.

However, it is a different model to the Boeing 737 Max 8 jets, which were grounded around the world following the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane that killed 157 people shortly after take-off from Addis Ababa in March last year.

A number of commercial airlines have rerouted flights to avoid possible danger amid escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

The UK has urged Iran not to carry out further "reckless and dangerous" attacks after Tehran fired missiles at military bases in Iraq hosting British and US troops.

British Airways rerouted flight 134 from Mumbai to Heathrow mid-way through the flight, to avoid crossing Iraqi airspace. The plane flew in a circle and was then diverted to the Greek capital Athens for refuelling.

The move has left a number of Indian passport holders stuck in the terminal as they do not possess the right visa to leave the airport.

One passenger, who asked not to be named, told the PA news agency that Indian nationals had been stuck in the terminal for a number of hours.

He said: "Since we don't have Schengen visa, BA couldn't put us in hotels which are outside the airport. Athens staff are doing their best to find alternate BA flights for us but looks like 20 odd passengers couldn't be accommodated.

"So either we will be put on other flights or else have to spend the night at the terminal lounge."

He said the flight, which took off more than 15 hours ago, had been rescheduled to Thursday morning.

British Airways said: "We appreciate the frustrating situation that a handful of our customers are in, without visas to enter Greece, following the diversion.

"We have apologised to our customers for the delay to their travel plans and our colleagues are doing everything they can to rebook customers, and take care of them until their flight departs."

Virgin Atlantic said it is "closely monitoring the situation" and its aircraft are not flying over Iranian airspace. Due to changes in flight routing, trips to and from Mumbai may take longer than expected.

Australian carrier Qantas said it is altering its route from London to Perth, Australia, to avoid Iranian and Iraqi airspace until further notice.

Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines have also rerouted planes to avoid Iranian airspace.
The US Federal Aviation Administration has barred American pilots and carriers from flying in areas of Iraqi, Iranian and some Persian Gulf airspace while the Russian aviation agency has recommended all Russian airlines avoid flying over Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has urged Iran to pursue "urgent de-escalation" as the crisis in the Gulf intensifies.

US President Donald Trump tweeted "all is well" following the attack on the bases, which was carried out in response to the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by America.
US officials said 15 missiles were fired, with 10 striking the Ain al-Asad base 100 miles west of Baghdad, one striking a base in Irbil in northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and another four missing their targets.