A commercial flight from Tehran, Iran, was thrown into a panic when a U.S. fighter jet was seen flying alongside the plane as part of an impromptu security inspection mid-flight.
Iranian state media said two fighter jets flew alongside the passenger plane on Thursday, conducting “dangerous maneuvers” in close proximity of the flight. Videos and images indicated passengers panicked after a jet appeared alongside the plane.
Iran first accused Israel of sending the fighter, but later shifted blame to the U.S. after the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting learned the fighter pilot identified himself as American to the Iranian flight.
“The incident is under investigation,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a press release. “Due political and legal measures will be taken upon completion of the information at hand.”
Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, confirmed an F-15 fighter jet conducted a “standard visual inspection” of the flight, but there was no second plane. The inspection was conducted due to the flight’s proximity to the Tanf garrison in Syria, which houses coalition forces.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at Al Tanf garrison. Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft,” Urban said in a press release. “The professional intercept was conducted in accordance with international standards.”
Despite assurances of professionalism, an immediate concern is that this incident could further heighten tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Tensions have been bubbling over since President Trump pulled the U.S. from the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018.
The situation appeared to hit a boiling point when Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani was killed by a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3. Iran retaliated with missile strikes targeting U.S. forces in Iraq though the situation quieted down shortly after.
Mahan Air has also faced regular scrutiny by the U.S. for allegedly carrying arms to Iranian-backed guerilla forces in Syria.