The lack of security at the scene has raised concerns over the inquiry’s credibility, just a day after western intelligence officials said Iran shot down the jet with surface-to-air missiles. Iran has denied any hostile act, calling the assessment a “big lie.”
An eyewitness at the crash site told CNN that looters and “garbage men” were “wandering around,” picking up debris, objects made of aluminum and anything else deemed valuable, as police and Revolutionary Guard Corps tried to disperse them.
Normally, forensic officers from major investigative organizations would be poring over the wreckage to see it in its natural state before removing it to a secure area.
The head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority Ali Abedzadeh told CNN on Friday that fragments of the plane had been taken to a hangar off-site to “reconstruct” it for “investigating the cause of the crash,” and that the remains of victims had been sent to a forensic lab for DNA testing.
Abedzadeh urged those speculating about the cause of the crash to wait until after an evaluation of the aircraft’s black boxes — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — which he said was set to begin on Friday and could take up to two months. The plane’s black boxes were damaged in the crash and fire, so Tehran may need help decoding them.
If Iranian authorities are unable to reconstruct and analyze the information from the fight data recorders, they said they would seek help from international partners Russia, Ukraine, France or Canada.
The Iranian government, which under international protocol has control of the investigation, has said it was willing for the US and Boeing to be part of the probe, after previously saying they would not allow their participation.
The recent escalated hostilities between the US and Iran have only further complicated the thorny task of investigating the crash. US government investigators, for example, cannot fly into Tehran and meet with government officials without a license. That prohibition is due to longstanding sanctions rather than the most recent events, according to two US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The exchange of attacks between Tehran and Washington — both on Iraqi soil — marked a dramatic escalation of tensions between the adversaries and raised fears of another proxy war in the Middle East.
On Thursday, the US and its allies said that intelligence showed Iran had shot down the passenger plane.
The US increasingly believes this was accidental.
The US, Britain, Canada, Sweden and the European Commission have called for an independent and credible investigation.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Pamela Brown, Barbara Starr, Zachary Cohen and Paul P. Murphy contributed to this report