Iran condemns US fighter jet challenging passenger plane

Several passengers on an Iranian airline have been injured over Syria after the pilot changed altitude to avoid collision with a US fighter jets, according to Iranian media, but the United States military said its F-15 kept a safe distance.

The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut on Thursday when the pilot staged a safety manoeuver, in an incident that Iran's Foreign Ministry said would be investigated. Iran's official 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."

The pilot of the passenger plane contacted the jet pilots to warn them to keep a safe distance and they identified themselves as American, IRIB reported.

All the passengers left the plane, some with minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told Reuters News Agency.

Iran’s foreign minister accused the United States of risking a disaster.

“U.S. ... harasses a scheduled civil airliner - endangering innocent civilian passengers - ostensibly to protect its occupation forces,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter. “These outlaws must be stopped before disaster.”

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 from the airliner this evening".

Iran on Friday dismissed the US explanation as "unjustified and unconvincing".

"The harassment of a passenger plane on the territory of a third country is a clear violation of aviation security and freedom of civilian aircraft," Laya Joneydi, vice president for legal affairs, was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

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

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