July 24 (Reuters) - Iran on Friday dismissed a U.S. explanation that a U.S. jet was conducting a visual inspection when it “harassed” an Iranian civilian airliner, saying the plane was forced to rapidly change altitude to avoid collision, injuring and panicking passengers.
State TV video footage of the inside of the airliner shows a passenger lying immobile of the floor and another with a wounded nose and forehead, presenting his bloodied face mask to the camera.
Several passengers, some seen screaming and shouting, were injured in the incident over Syria on Thursday, according to Iranian media, but the U.S. military said its F-15 was at a safe distance.
“The explanations provided so far are unjustified and unconvincing,” Laya Joneydi, vice president for legal affairs, was quoted as saying by Iranian media.
“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.”
The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut when the pilot staged the safety manoeuvre. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the encounter would be investigated.
Video footage shows oxygen masks fallen from the overhead roof panels. One jet can be seen through a seat window flying some distance away in a clear blue sky.
“I saw a black plane approaching us, and then we lost our balance,” one unidentified injured passenger told state TV.
“It was a jet. Almost so near our plane.”
One of the passengers was lying on the floor by the toilets and another passenger put a cushion under his head as cabin crew tended to others.
The U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said an F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian plane when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria, home to U.S. forces.
Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the jet was 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) from the airliner.
Tension has risen between Iran and the United States since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that necessary legal and political actions would be taken. Iran’s civilian aviation authority also was seeking to submit a formal protest to the International Civil Aviation Organization. (Editing by Nick Macfie)