Sunday, 3 July 2016

USS Vincennes and IR 655

[On this date in 1988 Iran Air flight 655 was shot down by the USS Vincennes. What follows is taken from an article on the Mail Online website. A great deal more about this shameful event can be found here.]

On July 3, 1988 an Iranian passenger jet was shot down by an American naval warship patrolling the Persian Gulf, killing all on board.

Iran Air flight 655 had been travelling from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Dubai when it was shot down by the USS Vincennes, resulting in the deaths of 290 civilians from six countries, including 66 children.

The USS Vincennes had tracked the plane electronically and warned it to keep away. When it did not the ship fired two surface-to-air missiles at the Airbus A300 B2-203, carrying many Iranians on their way to Mecca.

The attack still has the highest death toll of any aviation incident involving an Airbus A300, and any such incident in the Indian Ocean.

An official inquiry carried out by the US attributed the mistake to human error, saying that the crew had incorrectly identified the plane as a F-14 Tomcat fighter, and that the flight did not identify itself otherwise.

However, the Iranian government has always disputed the American version of events, with many claiming that the attack was purposeful, and a sign that the US can not be trusted in its dealings with the country.

The black box flight recorder on board the Airbus was never found, so it is unknown whether the crew ignored the American warnings via distress frequencies, or did not hear them.

It was only in 1992 that the US officially admitted that the vessel had been in Iranian waters after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats for operating within Iranian territory.

In 1996 the US agreed to pay Iran $61.8 million in compensation for the 248 Iranians killed, plus the cost of the aircraft and legal expenses.

It had already paid a further $40 million to the other countries whose nationals were killed. To date a formal apology has not been issued by the US for the tragedy.

Some believe the Lockerbie bombing, carried out six months later in December 1988, was masterminded by Iranians in revenge for the Airbus tragedy, although a Libyan man was convicted and jailed in 2001.

Going against an informal convention to discontinue flight numbers associated with aviation tragedies, Iran Air continues to use flight number IR655 on the route as a memorial to the victims.

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