Iran Air Flight 655

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Missing image
IranAir300.jpg
The USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air passenger aircraft similar to this Iran Air Airbus A300, killing all 290 passengers on board.

Iran Air Flight 655 "IR655" was a commercial flight operated by Iran Air, that flew on a Tehran-Bandar Abbas-Dubai route. On July 3, 1988, the flight was shot down by USS Vincennes on the Bandar Abbas-Dubai leg, which resulted in 290 civilian fatalities from six nations including 66 children. There were 38 non-Iranians aboard.

The first leg of the flight went as planned, and the plane, an Airbus A300B2, registered EP-IBU, left Bandar Abbas at 9:50am that day. It would have been a 28 minute flight. At that same time, the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser, Vincennes, fitted with the AEGIS combat system, was nearby in the Strait of Hormuz, which the commercial airliner, flown by captain Mohsen Rezaian, would pass over. In command of Vincennes was Commander William C. Rogers III. At the time of the incident, Vincennes, in support of Operation Earnest Will, was within Iranian territorial waters, following an attack on and pursuit of Iranian gunboats.

What happened thereafter is still subject to debate.

According to US government accounts, Vincennes mistakenly identified the Iranian airplane as an attacking military fighter. The officers identified the flight profile being flown by the A300B2 as being similar to that of an Iranian Air Force F-14A Tomcat during an attack run. According to the same reports Vincennes tried more than once to contact Flight 655, but there was no acknowledgement. The official ICAO report stated that these attempts to contact Iran Air 655 were sent on the wrong frequency and addressed to a non-existent "Iranian F-14". At 9:54am, with the civilian jet about 10 miles away, Vincennes fired a volley of two SM-2ER antiaircraft missiles. The first missile broke the aircraft in two and damaged the tailplane and right wing. After the engagement Vincennes' crew realised that the plane had been a civilian airliner. This version was finalised in a report [1] (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/jksonc/docs/ir655-dod-report.html) by Admiral William Fogarty, entitled Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988. This report is so far only partially released (part I in 1988, part II in 1993), a fact criticised by many observers.

Independent investigations into the events have presented a different picture. John Barry and Roger Charles, of Newsweek, wrote that Commander Rogers acted recklessly and without due care. Their report further accused the U.S. government of a cover-up.[2] (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/5260/vince.html) An analysis[3] (http://128.121.186.47/ISSA/reports/Iraq/May0503.htm) of the events by the International Strategic Studies Association (http://www.strategicstudies.org/) described the deployment of an Aegis cruiser in the zone as irresponsible and felt that the expense of the ship had played a major part in the setting of a low threshold for opening fire. On November 6 2003 the International Court of Justice concluded that the U.S. Navy's actions in the Persian Gulf at the time had been unlawful.

Three years after the incident, Admiral William Crowe admitted on Nightline that the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time of the shoot down (http://homepage.ntlworld.com/jksonc/docs/ir655-nightline-19920701.html). This directly contradicted the official Navy claims of the previous years.

Throughout its final flight IR655 was in radio contact with various air traffic control services using standard civil aviation frequencies, and had spoken in english to Bandar Abbas Approach Control seconds before Vincennes launched its missiles. Vincennes at that time had no equipment suitable for monitoring civil aviation frequencies, other than the International Air Distress frequency, despite being a sophisticated anti-aircraft warship. Subsequently U.S. Navy warships in the area were equipped with dialable VHF radios, and access to flight plan information was sought, to better track commercial airliners.

Contents

Awarded Medals

While issuing notes of regret over the loss of human life, the U.S. government has to date not admitted any wrongdoing or responsibility in this tragedy, nor apologized, but continues to blame Iranian hostile actions for the incident. The men of the Vincennes were all awarded combat-action ribbons. Commander Lustig, the air-warfare coordinator, even won the navy's Commendation Medal for "heroic achievement," his "ability to maintain his poise and confidence under fire," enabled him to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure."[4] (http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/5260/vince.html) According to The Washington Post, 30 April 1990, the Legion of Merit, the U.S. armed forces second highest award, was presented to Captain Rogers and Lieutenant Commander Lustig on July 3, 1988. The citations did not mention the downing of the Iran Air flight at all. [5] (http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/books/rochlin/chapter_09.html#foot20)

The incident continued to overshadow Iranian-American relations for many years. Following the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103, the British and American governments initially blamed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria, with assumptions of assistance from Iran in retaliation for Iran Air Flight 655.[6] (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FQP/is_4482_129/ai_62002088) The blame was later shifted to Libya.

The Flight 655 incident has often been compared to that of Korean Air Flight 007 interception by the Soviet Air Force in 1983.

Compensation

On February 22, 1996 the United States agreed to pay Iran $61.8 million in compensation ($300,000 per wage earning victim, $150,000 per non wage earner) for the 248 Iranians killed in the shootdown.

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