In 1980, shortly after Ayatollah Khomeini had seized power and declared Iran an Islamic Republic, Iraq invaded its neighbor (with the covert blessing of the USA). In the Persian Gulf there were attacks against oil tankers and merchant vessels, so the Americans sent warships and aircraft to provide protection for shipping. The USS Vincennes, carrying the state-of-the-art Aegis combat system, was deployed to the area, arriving in May 1988 under the command of Captain William C Rogers III.
On the morning of July 3 1988 a scheduled Iranian Airbus departed from Bandar Abbas, en route to Dubai – a mere 28-minute flight. Marginally delayed, it flew within its assigned Iranian commercial air corridor, transmitting the civilian aircraft code and speaking English to the civilian control tower. Seven minutes later, during its ascent, Flight 655 was shot down in flames by one or more missiles fired from USS Vincennes, taking with it 290 passengers and crew. There were no survivors.
USS Vincennes quickly reported that they had believed themselves to be under attack from an Iranian F-14 fighter plane, though it was immediately apparent that an appalling tragedy had occurred. The subsequent naval enquiry produced a startling whitewash, claiming Flight 655 was descending in attack mode outside its allotted airspace when it was destroyed. A month later the authorities admitted that it had in fact been at 3,658 m (12,000 ft) and was ascending well within its flight path. Later, the US Navy reported that the ship’s crew were suffering from psychological stress due to first-time combat.
The crew of USS Vincennes all received medals and Captain Rogers, who was thought trigger-happy and arrogant by several high-ranking colleagues, retired in 1991 with the Legion of Merit. The 290 passengers who died were effectively forgotten.
When was the Iran Air Flight 655 Shoot Down: July 3 1988
Where was the Iran Air Flight 655 Shoot Down: Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf
What was the Iran Air Flight 655 Shoot Down death toll: 290 passengers and crew, including 66 children.
You should know: Washington was eventually obliged to admit in the International Court of Justice that the USS Vincennes had been patrolling illegally in Iranian waters. Neither accepting responsibility nor apologizing for this disastrous action, Washington paid $131.8 million in compensation to Iran, further compensation going to the families of the 38 non-Iranians on board that day. In August 1988, George Bush Senior said I’ll\l never apologize for the United States of America, ever. I don’t care what the facts are’. Unsurprisingly, the incident has colored relations between both countries ever since.